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Today the Individual stands in great 
danger of having his dignity, freedom 
and integrity violated by organizations 
which forget that they exist for him, not 
he for them. To help defend him the 
Church must emphasize increasingly 
the rights which are bound up with the 
duties of her own subjects. One of the 
most important is that of discussion and 
criticism, indispensable in any mature 
society. In this book the function, scope 
and limitations of public opinion in the 
Church are discussed with honesty, skill 
and an originality which is profoundly 
traditional. Against the Church's g 
ing freedom from the dubious social 
privileges of the past, Father Rahner 
sets the picture of the truly contempo- 
rary Catholic, who has a grown stronger 
than ever in loyalty through the de- 
velopment of a truly adult capacity 
for comment, discussion and personal 
initiative. And it is with reference to this 
lively conception of the individual 
Catholic that he boldly discusses in the 
second section of this book the pros- 
pects of Christianity today a prospect 
in which Father Rahner, with his pene- 
trating analysis, finds hope and en- 
couragement, not despite the obstacles 
which confront the Church, but pre- 
cisely because of the challenges pre- 
sented by the modern world. 


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Free speech in the Church 

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SE__ .,..1965 





Karl Rahnerj S.J. 

SHEED & WARD - T^ew York 




Vic. GEN. 


The N/M Obstat and Imprimatur are a 
declaration that a book or pamphlet is 
considered to be free from doctrinal or 
moral error. It is not implied that those 
who have granted the Nthil Obstat and 
Imprimatur agree with the contents, 
opinions or statements expressed. 

This book is a translation of Das jrete Won m der Kirche, 
published by Johannes- Verlag, Einsiedeln. 








THIS SUBJECT is simply a subdivision of a far wider 
general topic the question of the position and func- 
tion of the laity within the Church, both in the general 
context of Catholic Action, and in the light of the 
individual Christian's responsibility for the Church's 
mission today and the way he co-operates in it. Now, 
any serious consideration of a matter of one's rights 
must turn inevitably into a discussion of the duties 
that lie behind the rights, When the subject under dis- 
cussion is the individual layman's right to express his 
own opinion within the Church, then this resolves 
itself ultimately into a demand that the individual 
layman shall become aware, not so much of any privi- 
lege he may have in this matter, as of his duty to feel 
a personal responsibility for the Church's official 

I should like to approach my subject by way of a 
slight detour, beginning with the question as to 


whether there is, might be, or ought to be any such 
thing within the Church as a "public opinion" a 
phrase used, incidentally, by the late Pope Pius XII. 

Even in the secular domain of state, society and 
the community of nations, public opinion is a highly 
problematical thing. It is not easy to define; it is 
frequently guided, and distorted, by powers that are 
very far from "public" in fact is often "made" by 
the State Itself. It is subject to all the shortsightedness 
and the blind passions of the masses and the "spirit of 
the age". Nor is it clear at first sight why the opinions 
of a large number of people, of "the public", should 
be sounder or better for the people and the State 
as a whole than the opinions of a few; unless one is 
prepared to cherish the optimistic view that there are 
more wise men than fools in the world, and that the 
celebrated "man in the street" is a model of wisdom 
and probity. Nevertheless, clearly such a thing as 
public opinion exists in the lives of states and peoples; 
it has its particular function to play in them, and it 
must be taken into account by a government when it 
makes its decisions. 

Is there anything corresponding to this in the life of 
the Church and, furthermore, should there be? Cer- 
tainly not, as far as the actual phrase "public opinion" 



is concerned. This phrase has never been known before 
in the history of the Church not even in the days 
when the reality was playing a part in the lives of 
states and cities. But a thing can be there, even when 
it has no name: a new concept can be tacked on to an 
old reality. Now, there is no reason why the new con- 
cept should bring into disrepute the old reality to 
which it has attached itself; and furthermore, the new 
word may make the old reality clearer, and bring out 
its significance both theoretically and practically. But 
at the same time it is obvious that an idea like the 
present one, which has been taken from the secular 
side of life indeed, is typically modern in its deriva- 
tion must be used carefully and in a merely anal- 
ogous sense when it is applied in the quite different 
sphere of the sacred. However, if it is true that there 
are ultimately no concepts in the sphere of religion 
which do not finally derive from this earth; if the 
Church herself is "visible", possessing an aspect com- 
prehensible in human terms, indeed, even a law akin 
to a secular code, although this fact in no way mili- 
tates against her heavenly origin; if Catholic theology 
has always held firmly to the principle that the visible 
aspect of the Church can and must be described 
"analogously" in terms of the human law; then the 



mere secular origin of the concept of public opinion 
cannot be a reason for us not to enquire into the possi- 
bility of ''public opinion 3 ' within the Church. 

At first sight it might seem that such a thing as 
public opinion would be utterly impossible in the 
Catholic Church. Not that anyone with the least ac- 
quaintance with Church history, in both its holy and 
its unholy aspects, could deny the actual fact of its 
existence and activity within the Church. It goes 
without saying that the decisions of the Church are 
made by the men in the Church, even though their 
human activities are held in the grasp of the divine 
Spirit. Clearly, too, these men, notwithstanding the 
leading and prompting of the Holy Spirit, will behave 
for both good and ill as children of their age. Nor 
can it be gainsaid that to be a child of one's age is to 
be influenced, consciously or unconsciously, by the 
public opinion of one's age. This remains true, even 
when a churchman imagines himself to be defending 
the rights and teachings of God and the Church by 
braving public opinion and acting in diametrical 
opposition to it. In such a case a man can in fact be 
in a state of dependence sometimes fatal dependence 
upon public opinion: God and the truth can often 
remain remarkably remote from parties formed in 



such a way. In short: The mere fact of the existence 
of a public opinion within the Church will be ques- 
tioned by no one. But not everything that exists 
within the Church has a right to exist, when judged 
by the Church's true nature and purpose; so that it is 
still quite possible for anyone to question the right of 
this public opinion to exist, even though it does in fact 

We might say, for instance, "Public opinion is 
one of the ways in which the people's will expresses 
itself in secular society. In a democratic state the 
people's will governs the decisions made by the Gov- 
ernment, and for this reason public opinion has a right 
to exist and to be respected there. But is this so within 
the Church? The Church's authority comes from the 
grace of God, not from the people. It derives ulti- 
mately from a divine ordinance, not from a popular 
election. The laws governing her behaviour are 
grounded in an unchanging, everlasting constitution 
granted her by our Lord himself. Essentially, for all 
her historical development, and though involved in so 
many ways with the external forces which determine 
secular history, she is not a product of the changing 
forces of this secular history but something founded 
once and for all by God himself, to last until the end 



of time. The ultimate, decisive forces behind her 
activity, in the varying conditions of history in which 
she lives, derive not from men but from the Spirit 
who has been promised her as the everlasting vital 
principle of all she does. What place is there, then, for 
public opinion in such a society?" 

And yet there can and should be such a thing as 
public opinion within the Church. I shall try to show 
why this must be so later. For the moment it will be 
sufficient to support this assertion by a reference to 
the Church's teaching authority. In an address to those 
taking part in an International Catholic Press Congress 
(reported in the Qsservatore Romano of 18 February, 
1950) , the late Pope Pius XII said: 

Public opinion plays a part in every normal society 
of human beings . . .wherever there is no expression 
of public opinion, above all, where it has been ascer- 
tained that no public opinion exists, then one is 
obliged to say that there is a fault, a weakness, a sick- 
ness, in the social life of that area. . . . Finally, I 
should like to add a word about public opinion 
within the fold of the Church about things that can 
be left open to discussion, of course. Only people who 
know little or nothing about the Catholic Church 
will be surprised to hear this. For she too is a living 



body, and there would be something missing from her 
life if there were no public opinion within her, a de- 
fect for which pastors as well as the faithful would be 
responsible. . . . 

First, a few reflections by way of commentary on 
these words spoken by the Church's supreme teacher. 
The words themselves come from a speech made not 
about the subject of this essay, but about the nature of 
public opinion and the need for it in the secular sphere 
of states and societies, and it is only in the closing 
section of the address that the subject of this essay 
is briefly mentioned. But there is no mistaking its 
assertion of the need for a public opinion within the 
Church, and its justification of the existence of such 
public opinion. Any denial of such an activity within 
the Church is said to be based on an insufficiency, or 
even a complete absence, of knowledge about the 
Church. The existence of a public opinion is justified 
by the fact that the Church is a society of human 
beings and that human societies essentially involve 
public opinion. Any attempt to stifle it would be a 
mistake, for which both clergy and laity would be 
held responsible. We must not, of course, overstate 
the binding power of these words of the Pope's, made 
in a speech to a congress which was not even pub- 


lished in the Church's official organ, the Ada Apos- 
tolicae Sedis. We should not ascribe to them a doctrinal 
authority to which they have no claim. In addresses 
like this the Pope does not normally intend to settle 
controversial questions, but rather, in his capacity 
of ordinary teacher of the Church, to re-emphasize 
truths which seem to him self-evident and beyond 

But it is precisely because of this that the Pope's 
words are of so much interest. Looking at the thing 
from the historical point of view, it would indeed be 
fair to say that fifty years ago, at about the time of 
Pius X's Syllabus, such a statement i.e. the unhesi- 
tating admission, as something self-evident, of the 
existence (and the fully justified existence) of a 
public opinion within the Church would have 
seemed far less indisputable. In fact, one would hardly 
have expected it then from the lips of a pope. Not 
that Christian truth changes with changes in its 
enemies; but inevitably, the front on which the 
Church has to defend that truth must change as new 
aspects of this unchanging truth, whose plenitude 
she always possesses, emerge more fully into her own 
consciousness. Thus, in an age of liberalism and scien- 
tific "freedom" and so on, the emphasis had to be laid 



on the God-given nature of the Church's teaching 
authority. In an age of totalitarian states, when indi- 
viduality is suppressed and "ideology" supplied, the 
Church has to delimit her position more clearly, to 
prevent her own character and nature from being 
confused with those of a totalitarian state. She will 
now have to come down more firmly on the side of 
the individual's responsibility and freedom both in 
his secular and his religious life. She will have to say, 
for example as she has not said in so many words 
before that there is and should be such a thing as 
public opinion within the Church, thereby making it 
clear that the Church is not a totalitarian religious 
state, no matter what so many people outside the 
Church may think and say to the contrary. 

What sort of a thing is public opinion, as it exists 
within the Church? In its secular sense "public 
opinion" includes all the manifestations of the mind 
and will of the people composing a given society, in 
so far as these opinions and wishes are, on the one 
hand, shared by the majority of the people i.e., are 
not entirely individual and, on the other, do not 
find direct expression through legally constituted 
channels such as Parliament and so on. One might 
therefore be tempted to speak of a public opinion 



as existing within the Church whenever the views 
and aspirations of her members develop and find ex- 
pression, not under the leadership and authority of 
the Hierarchy but, in the first place at least, side by 
side with the functions of these "official" powers of 
the Hierarchy. But this would still be too wide a con- 
ception of the matter. For there are in fact in the 
Catholic idea of the Church certain elements whose 
embodiment is in the "Church taught" but which 
nevertheless cannot be included under the heading of 
"public opinion" within the Church, even though 
they are common knowledge to all the Catholic 

The Church's life is sustained not only by the ini- 
tiative, orders or instructions of ecclesiastical author- 
ity, but also, though it is still under the direction 
of the Hierarchy, by the charisms of the Holy Spirit, 
who can 'breathe upon whomsoever he will in the 
Church even the poor, the children, those who are 
"least in the Kingdom of God" and infuse his own 
impulses into the Church in ways that no one can 
foretell. The "Church taught" has its own under- 
standing of the Faith, its own kind of "infallibility" 
in the sense that not only the teaching Church but 
the "Church taught", as a whole, will always remain 



within the orbit of divine truth, safe under the power 
of the Holy Spirit. All those manifestations of strictly 
supernatural powers and gifts and inspirations, which 
the Holy Spirit, soul of the Church, is always infusing 
into God's holy people, are better kept out of what 
must always be in certain respects the secular idea of 
''public opinion 5 '; they belong to a higher level of 
existence than anything this idea usually implies. Nor, 
for this reason, shall I make any reference in what 
follows to that freedom of speech which specially 
characterizes those mystics and others who have 
a special mission from the Holy Spirit or in any way 
are endowed with a special charism. A subject so im- 
portant would need separate treatment. 

But when all this has been excluded, there is still 
place in the Church for what can truly be called pub- 
lic opinion. Divine though the Church may be in 
origin in her constitution and doctrine, her sacra- 
ments and her law she has an earthly existence too: 
she has her own jus humanum, forms of spirituality, 
liturgy, care of souls, moral behaviour, administra- 
tion, societies, organizations, etc., which to some ex- 
tent, though not exclusively, express the fluctuating, 
predominantly natural conditions of the day. The 
Church has always to be adapting her actual existence 



to contemporary conditions, and these, often far re- 
moved from her direct influence, are simply so many 
"facts", which she must take into account. But it is 
not always an easy matter to know what in fact are 
these conditions which form the life and work of the 
Church. They are very often not simply "facts", but 
are things made up of the desires, feelings, emotions, 
worries, and so on, of human beings of human beings 
who could no doubt be different from what they are, 
but who are in fact what they are now. What they 
are now is in many cases the result of free choice by 
men who "theoretically" (but only "theoretically") 
could have come to different decisions; but these 
other decisions could not in all cases be dictated to 

Moreover, all these "preconditions" are extraor- 
dinarily varied and many-sided; they change with the 
people concerned, with time and place; the changes 
may take place very quickly, frequently seeming to 
contradict each other; in fact, they often do so. In 
short, knowledge of these preconditions to which the 
life of the Church has to adapt itself is no easy matter, 
but something to be struggled for and won over and 
over again. It is here that public opinion within the 
Church has its true field of activity. From this point 



of view it is simply the manifestation of the actual 
situation, which the Church leaders have to be 
familiar with and take into account and they can 
only do this through the people who are living in the 
situation, who have to live their lives in it as Christians 
and members of the Church, and thus work out their 
salvation. Public opinion within the Church, one may 
therefore say, exists to make plain what people in the 
Church are really feeling, so that the Church leaders 
can take account of this in their own action. As has 
been said above, the "situation" includes a great deal 
that is the result of voluntary activity and voluntary 
decisions. A particular Church ordinance or custom 
can be felt in this way or that. But it is important to 
know how it is actually felt. For instance, it is theo- 
retically possible for the liturgy for Holy Saturday to 
be celebrated with the utmost piety in the morning, 
the worshippers overlooking the fact that it is actually 
still Saturday morning and not the Easter vigil. But 
the kind of thing the clergy need to know is whether 
people do in fact feel this way about it, or whether 
they simply will not do so, even with good (though 
without absolutely compelling) grounds for such 
action. And in matters of free choice men's thoughts 
and feelings should not be prescribed for them. The 



way people actually feel about such things must be 
taken into account as the ''situation" in which the offi- 
cial Church must take her appropriate action. This 
may seem a fairly obvious thing to say, but like many 
other obvious things it is often overlooked in practice. 
Public opinion is thus one of the means whereby the 
Church's official leaders, who need human aid as well as 
divine, get to know something about the actual situa- 
tion within which, and taking due account of which* 
they are to lead and guide the people. They need to 
know how people are thinking and feeling, what they 
have set their hearts and wishes on, what their problems 
are, what they find difficult, in what respects their feel- 
ings have changed, where they find the traditional an- 
swers or rulings insufficient, what they would like to see 
changed (even if the change is not strictly necessary) , 
and so on. The greater the number of people involved, 
the more complex their relationships, the more diverse 
their mentalities, the more difficult it is to obtain this 
knowledge of the situation, and, therefore, the greater 
the need for a public opinion. 

In a sense there has always been a kind of public 
opinion within the Church. All the "movements" that 
have taken place in the course of the Church's history 
are in the last resort so many precursors of the de~ 



velopment and final emergence of this kind of public 
opinion, even though they were of course more than 
that. Nevertheless the phrase "public opinion" should, 
in the strict sense, perhaps only be applied to those 
cases where individuals, believing themselves to be the 
mouthpieces of a hitherto unexpressed point of view, 
come out in public and address the masses as publicists, 
by way of books, newspapers and public speeches, and 
so give expression to public opinion and at the same 
time help to create it. This situation is only possible 
and necessary at any rate in the secular sphere 
where, as recently, there is a large mass of people in- 
volved, making the analysis of the situation difficult. 
Only in such conditions does it become necessary for 
individual opinions, for what seem at first sight no 
more than individual wishes and aspirations, to be 
made known to the general public, that their reaction 
may determine whether it is simply a case of the in- 
significant views of an individual or whether some- 
thing more is involved. In general, therefore, we can 
only speak of a "public opinion" when we can observe 
the public's reaction to the views and attitudes of an 
individual. But if the situation can only be satisfac- 
torily known in this way, then it will be necessary, or 
at least useful, to give public opinion a chance to de- 



velop, by allowing the individual to address the gen- 
eral public. 

The fact that this holds true in Church matters 
also means that, to a certain extent, the individual 
within the Church must be allowed to address the 
Church community in general as a publicist not 
only to make direct representations to the Hierarchy. 
The authorization or right to do this is not in the last 
analysis the same as the "democratic" right to express 
any wish or idea of no matter what kind; from the 
point of view of the Hierarchy it is simply a useful, 
and in certain circumstances a necessary, way of get- 
ting to know the actual situation. To put it rather 
frivolously, it allows the individual to talk his head off 
occasionally, so that one can judge from the way 
others react whether he is really saying anything of 
any general concern. Thus, in so far as this is the only 
way in which the official Church leaders can obtain 
adequate knowledge of the situation and today this 
is very largely the case to that extent they must 
allow and indeed encourage the kind of "publicity" 
that leads to the growth and expression of public 
opinion. This expression and formation of public 
opinion cannot in all or even the majority of cases be 
the effect of guidance and inspiration by the Holy 


Spirit, or any intelligence superior to the individual's, 
as is often too optimistically supposed in the secular 
sphere. Its justification is simply that this is the sole 
means of discovering what is really going on. If there 
is any real desire to know the current situation 
spiritual, psychological, social, etc. then Catholics 
must be allowed (within the limits already laid down) 
to talk their heads off. Anyone who thinks today he 
really knows what is going on, without the aid of this 
means of information, will very often find himself to 
be most lamentably mistaken. From this point of 
view, public opinion is the means a useful and, in 
these days, to some extent an indispensable means 
whereby the Church authorities can get an all-round 
view of the actual situation. 

It is well for us to bear in mind the fact that, in 
the sphere in which this public opinion has a part 
to play, Church authorities have no gift of infal- 
libility, however much they may be helped and sup- 
ported by the Holy Spirit. It is always possible to make 
mistakes, to shilly-shally, to lag far behind the con- 
temporary historical situation all these things are 
possible. The clergy possessing official jurisdiction 
within the Church often have, it is true, a wider view 
of the real condition of the world and of men's 


spiritual and intellectual life as a result of their inde- 
pendent position, their remoteness from the pressures 
of secular activity, their deeper roots in Church tradi- 
tion. Yet it is also true that they are not infrequently 
in danger, for the same reasons, of knowing only 
a limited, merely "clerical" and traditionally sheltered 
segment of real life and the real position. If they 
do not allow the people to speak their minds, do 
not, in more dignified language, encourage or even 
tolerate, with courage and forbearance and even a cer- 
tain optimism free from anxiety, the growth of a pub- 
lic opinion within the Church, they run the risk of 
directing her from a soundproof ivory tower, instead 
of straining their ears to catch the voice of God, which 
can also be audible within the clamour of the times. 

The above should not only have made clear the 
meaning of, and the need for, a public opinion within 
the Church, but also the real subject of this essay the 
individual's, and above all the layman's, right to free 
speech within the Church, which we have already been 
discussing. This freedom is an essential part of any 
public opinion, and thus shows up its fundamental 
difference from the kind of opinion allowed in totali- 
tarian states. This means that the freedom of the indi- 
vidual must by no means be regarded as being re- 



stricted to a merely private sphere, with no bearing 
on the community life of the Church: on the con- 
trary, it has a real place in her public life. 

Now that this has been established, we can go on 
to the more difficult question of the limitations that 
are to be set to this public opinion, and also the con- 
crete forms it can take in actual practice. It is clear, 
to begin with, that there can be no discussion of any- 
thing that comes into conflict with the Church's 
dogma and her divinely willed constitution, juris 
divini. Even democracies give no place or recognition 
to aspirations that deny their own essential nature. The 
only proper objects of public opinion within the 
Church are Church matters. An ever-watchful eye is 
kept on these by priests and theologians, who have 
long since developed the proper organs for exerting 
their authority censorship, the supervision of teach- 
ing activities within the Church, official Church pro- 
nouncements and so on but it must be remembered 
in this connection that there is always a strong tend- 
ency to narrow down far too closely the range of what 
parts of the Faith can legitimately be discussed. Any 
such narrowing- down does not in fact help to keep 
the Faith strong and secure; instead, discussion about 
the questions concerned drifts far beyond the general 


Catholic public into regions much harder to keep an 
eye on, and "cryptogam" heresies 1 arise. Thus a certain 
degree of freedom of public opinion is necessary even 
in questions of theology, and the Church has in fact 
always insisted that she wishes to preserve this free- 
dom and a free exchange of views between the various 
schools. It would likewise be a mistake to recognize the 
right of this freedom to exist only in those cases where 
it has already to a certain extent been expressly ac- 
knowledged by the Church's teaching office, i.e., when 
old scholastic problems are being treated for the nth 
time and freedom to discuss them has been expressly 
given to the parties concerned. The same freedom 
must also be allowed when questions are being raised 
and views expressed for which there is no previous 
guarantee that such and such a comment may be 
made, or even such and such a subject discussed. In 
these cases, of course, i.e., when a real theological issue 
is at stake which has not been decided once and for all 
by the Church's teaching authority, and when the 
views put forward cannot be accepted in advance as 
being at least "safe" (tuta)^ the Church's teaching 

1 Cf. "Ein Gestaltwandel der Haresie", in K. Rattner, Gefabren 
zm heutigen Katholizismus, Johannes Verlag, Einsiedeln, 1950, 
series Christ Heute. 



authority can naturally and quite justifiably make 
clear to the Catholic public generally that some par- 
ticular opinion has gone beyond the bounds of what is 

But even in such cases as these it should be as- 
sumed unless there is proof to the contrary that 
the theologian concerned has acted in good faith in 
making use of his right to present his views to the gen- 
eral Catholic public. Such a theologian has in the last 
analysis only performed the function of public opin- 
ion as outlined above. He has given the Church officials 
the opportunity of acquainting themselves with the 
spiritual currents of their time (which would still be 
there, even if the offending expressions of them had 
never been made) and of clarifying their own attitude 
to them. It is very seldom that the Church's teaching 
authority is simply called upon to repeat platitudes, 
which any theologian might be expected to know all 
about anyway. In any case, theologians who have ex- 
pressed their views in a clear and honest fashion tend 
to be af ected far more deeply by such negative reac- 
tions than do those who put forward the same views, 
or far "worse" ones, "cryptogamically", and the 
former should therefore be treated with all the 
courtesy that befits an honourable opponent in a 



spiritual battle, even when he is the "loser". And once 
the spiritual authority has spoken, the persons not af- 
fected should refrain from pointing the finger of 
scorn at those under censure, as if they themselves 
always knew better. The class of persons that always 
know better seldom contribute anything towards a 
solution of the problems which have brought the 
others to grief. 

The limits which are to be set, in actual concrete 
cases, to the free expression of opinion within the 
Church will always be to a certain extent a matter of 
judgement, and the last word in such cases must lie 
with the Church authorities. Anyone who has spent 
any time studying Church history will readily agree 
that again and again and this is quite consonant 
with the infallibility of Church doctrine and the 
support given to the pastoral office by the Holy Ghost 
these limits have been set a little too narrowly. 
There is no need for any examples of this to be men- 
tioned here. Thus public opinion can also perform the 
useful function of allowing a frank and sincere dis- 
cussion of the actual limits of public opinion. There is 
another point worth noting about these theological 
questions: the more the theological debates are of a 
professional scientific kind, pursued for the benefit 



of a narrow specialized public, the more remote the 
danger becomes of any undesirable influence affecting 
the vast mass of the laity through this kind of free 
discussion: the more "academic", in fact, the discus- 
sion becomes, the less cause for suspicion and alarm 
is there in the growth of a limited expression of general 
opinion. It is true that today, when people find it so 
easy to hear about every type of question, and like 
discussing everything under the sun, it is more difficult 
than it used to be to separate this academic "forum" 
from the open market of public opinion. Nevertheless, 
even today it can still be useful to ask whether or not 
the right moment has in fact arrived for saying or 
writing something which at another time would be 
rightly regarded as out of place and rightly call forth 
a justified reaction from the Church authorities. 

In other questions which do not affect, or do not 
directly affect, the Church's unchanging deposit of 
faith and her divinely ordained constitution, but are 
concerned with the jus humanum in the Church, her 
varying practices in the matter of the liturgy, the 
care of souls, politics, etc., public opinion has a still 
more vital function to perform within the Church, 
and hence a still greater right to freedom. At this level 
any form of "top secret" government would be a 

3 1 


really great danger. It is true, of course, that In these 
matters too the authority of the Church has the last 
word, and when something is made binding or is for- 
bidden it is simply part of the layman's duty to obey 
these ordinances and prohibitions. It is also his duty 
to see that not only the form but also the content of 
these ordinances and prohibitions (i.e., what is "meri- 
torious" in them) is not discussed publicly in such a 
way that their observance is vitiated. But it seems 
necessary to add here that it by no means f oUows that 
all discussion of the appropriateness and opportune- 
ness of existing ordinances, practices and so on in the 
Church should be for this reason ruled out, or carried 
on, so far as the general public is concerned, behind 
closed doors. 

In our own day, for instance, there can be open 
discussion as to whether there would be some point in 
a reform of the Breviary, or even whether there should 
be a modification of the Mass itself. Can there be any 
question that this could have taken place decades ago, 
even though permission for such a discussion if only 
unofficial permission had not expressly encouraged 
people to embark on it? Would it have been such a 
bad thing if a few words could have been found oc- 
casionally in Catholic newspapers on the subject of the 



awful complexity of the rules about fasting before 
Holy Communion, which have not always seemed to 
preserve the real spirit of this ordinance of the 
Church? Could not the housing and dress and cus- 
toms of the various orders be discussed more frankly 
and openly (in the appropriate journals which does 
not by any means mean all of them) than has been 
the case for a long time now, despite the fact that 
everyone realizes that a good deal of discussion and 
reform is needed in this matter? Are there not large 
groups of people amongst what is on the whole a fairly 
loyal body of laymen who privately deplore many of 
the educational methods in use in Catholic institutes 
and monastic establishments and yet never say a word 
about it in public and never will, wrongly imagining 
that they never may? The fact is that reforms of this 
kind naturally often need the pressure of public 
opinion if they are not to be stifled by tradition. Even 
in the higher reaches of the Church, people can believe 
that all is well because no complaints and no wishes for 
any sort of change have been heard, or because if they 
have they seem to be simply isolated views with no 
weight of public opinion behind them. The examples 
mentioned above, it should be added, are of a purely 
arbitrary kind; nevertheless they may suffice to illus- 


trate what is meant by saying that in this sphere public 
opinion within the Church should have a wide and not 
too narrowly circumscribed field of activity. 

Views about the limits to be set to the expressions 
of this public opinion and the forms it should take will 
naturally vary considerably when it comes to actual 
practice. This is bound to happen, because the actual 
feelings of the various peoples and groups within the 
Church differ enormously. Some will take some par- 
ticular expression of opinion as a matter of course, 
while others will regard it as a tactless criticism, utterly 
lacking in respect, of Church ordinances and customs. 
Some will feel frustrated, fearing that pronounce- 
ments and explanations always get put off until it is 
almost too late for them to be of any use. They will 
feel that a thing is only allowed when in fact it can 
no longer be stopped, when even the official repre- 
sentatives of the Church have become such children 
of their own age (but already almost out of date) 
that the thing they finally sanction and approve is a 
fait accompli, whereas if it had been allowed earlier 
it would have been the sign of a really liberating and 
redeeming attitude. Others will regard exactly the 
same thing as a destructive attack upon sanctified 
traditions which have established themselves through 



the wisdom of centuries and proved themselves by 
long practice to be sound and rich in blessings. Exactly 
the same sort of criticism may be in one case benefi- 
cial, or at least harmless, and in another have all the 
unfortunate consequences expected of it, encouraging 
an attitude of blasphemy and private rebellion. 

The position here is like that in different families: 
in one the children are allowed to criticize things 
openly and to express their own desires and com- 
plaints, and yet at the same time are most devoted 
and obedient children, whereas in another this free- 
dom might undermine the parents' authority abso- 
lutely and in practice be a real threat to their 
ultimate right of decision. Obviously this depends on 
the way the children have been brought up. When 
they have been encouraged from their earliest days to 
voice their own desires and wishes quite frankly and 
yet at the same time have been brought up in a proper 
spirit of obedience, a frank exchange of views between 
them and their parents can do nothing but good and 
will never be regarded by either side as being imperti- 
nence or destructive criticism. But if they have been 
brought up to listen and obey, on the assumption that 
their parents' word is law; if, even when they are 
grown-up, they have to behave as though they could 



never have any views of their own; then any sudden 
permission to criticize will in fact undermine the 
authority of their parents. From this simple analogy - 
and it is no more, of course it can be said, so far as 
our own problem here is concerned, that the people 
in the Church (young men in Holy Orders, the laity 
and so on) must be brought up in a responsible spirit 
of obedience and be able to make proper use of their 
right to express their opinions. They must learn 
that this right to express their own views and to crit- 
icize others does not mean licence to indulge in savage 
attacks and arrogant presumption. They must be 
brought up in a proper critical spirit towards Church 
matters, not finding it necessary to rave about any- 
thing that happens to be in favour in the Church at 
the moment as though it were the ultimate end of 
wisdom, and yet able to unite this frame of mind with 
a humble and at the same time dignified habit of 
obedience. They must learn to unite the inevitable 
detachment of a critical public attitude with a gen- 
uine and inspired love of the Church and a gen- 
uine subordination and submission to the actual official 
representatives of the Church. They must learn that 
even in the Church there can be a body something like 
Her Majesty's Opposition, which in the course of 


Church history has always had its own kind of saints 
in its ranks the ranks of a genuine, divinely- willed 
opposition to all that is merely human in the Church 
and her official representatives. 

They must learn and this is not just a matter of 
course, but means a serious effort of education that 
there are circumstances in which people can have a 
real duty to speak their minds within the permitted 
limits and in a proper spirit of respect, even though 
this will not bring them praise and gratitude "from 
above" (how many examples there are of this in the 
history of the saints!). They must also learn that it 
can be God's will for them to live for a time, as New- 
man said, "under a cloud", because they represent a 
spirit out of the ordinary which comes from the Holy 
Spirit. They must learn to unite all this with a frank, 
simple, natural and utterly unlegalistic spirit of obed- 
ience and a ready good-will towards the Church's 
official representatives. Ultimately no formal rule can 
be laid down as to how to achieve a concrete synthesis 
of what are apparently such opposing virtues. It will 
come about only when people truly seek, not their 
own will and opinions and self -justification, but the 
will of God and the Church ultimately, in fact, 
when people are saints. 



We are living during a period of transition, which 
means, so far as our present question Is concerned, 
at a time when certain outward forms which have 
so far been useful or at least have existed for a long 
time are now proving themselves less useful and ef- 
fective in promoting Church authority. Therefore 
a somewhat greater range of expression of public 
opinion is allowable, assuming that the spiritual atti- 
tude of Catholics is such that it can bear this greater 
freedom without detriment to their spirit of obedi- 
ence. Apart from anything else, the Church today 
should be more careful than ever before not to give 
even the slightest impression that she is of the same 
order as those totalitarian states for whom outward 
power and sterile, silent obedience are everything and 
love and freedom nothing, and that her methods of 
government are those of the totalitarian systems in 
which public opinion has become a Ministry of Propa- 
ganda. But we both those of us who are in authority 
and those who are under authority are perhaps still 
accustomed here and there to certain patriarchal 
forms of leadership and obedience which have no 
essential or lasting connection with the real stuff of 
Church authority and obedience. When this is so, 
Church authorities may see even a justifiable expres- 
sion of frank opinion about Church matters as camou- 



flaged rebellion, or resentment against the Church 
Hierarchy. Even those not in authority may dislike 
such free expression, because they are accustomed to 
the old traditional ways. 

In such transitional periods there are many ques- 
tions of a practical kind which will need a long time 
for their solution, and the really contemporary ways 
in which public opinion is to manifest itself within 
the Church are still to be found. Patience is necessary 
on both sides. The Church authorities must be patient, 
not regarding every frank expression of opinion or 
criticism as an attack upon themselves or on essential 
Church principles and institutions, or as an attempt 
to outvote them and their decisions. Those under 
their authority must be patient, not giving the im- 
pression that they regard every admonition from 
above as an out-and-out attack upon free expression 
within the Church or as an absolute denial of the 
right of public opinion to exist within the Church. 

What conclusions may now be drawn from what 
has been said, with particular regard to the matter of 
the layman's actual behaviour within the Church? 

In the first place, the layman still has in this respect 
a duty an old duty, but always needing to be re- 
emphasized to educate himself in religious and theo- 
logical matters up to a decent level, corresponding 



to his intellectual level in other fields. He has his own 
kind of responsibility for the Church as a whole and 
for her concrete activity in the world of time. He is 
called upon to play his part and live up to his re- 
sponsibilities in helping to create a state of public 
opinion within the Church. He is not just there to 
be given orders and to act as a silent, obedient servant. 
He can do his full duty as a member of the Church, 
thinking and working hand in hand with all the 
others and so sharing in the Church's public life, only 
if he really knows something. He must know what his 
Church teaches. He must have a deep-rooted knowl- 
edge of where the fixed boundaries of his faith lie. He 
must not be left open to the sort of ideas and aspira- 
tions that would never have entered his head had he 
had a better religious education and a deeper knowl- 
edge of the Church's teaching. He must know some- 
thing about Church history, so that he is not always 
ready to accept the latest thing, his own period's 
dernier cri, as the end of all wisdom. He must, within 
certain limits, know a very great deal. To begin with, 
he must have a really clear understanding of the 
Church's official teaching about all those matters 
which, because of his position in life and his personal 
relationships with others, concern him most inti- 



mately. Lacking this, he will be in danger of imagining 
that he can further his own interests and his own 
personal convictions only by adopting unreflec- 
tively, and therefore all the more potently and danger- 
ously a kind of "double-think", acting towards 
heresies "cryptogamically", whilst at the same time 
keeping in line officially with the Church and theoreti- 
cally acknowledging all her teaching. When a person 
does not know precisely what the Church teaches and 
does not teach, or to what degree any given item of her 
teaching is binding, then, even though he may want to 
be a true member of the Church for thoroughly 
worthy and indeed objectively valid reasons, he will 
be in danger of taking any actual or probable decision 
by the Church and "adopting it and turning it into a 
legal enactment", instead of understanding it from 
within and making it part and parcel of his very being. 
He will, moreover, run another risk: instead of being 
the spokesman of a genuine public opinion and a gen- 
eral attitude within the Church, he may find himself 
involved in a type of opinion and attitude that is far 
from public; that has in fact a subterranean element 
of heresy, including a camouflaged resentment against 
the "Roman system" as people with that kind of 
mentality like to call the true Church. 


Catholics who want to take a real share in the de- 
velopment of a public opinion within the Church 
must live like true Christians and make the Church's 
cardinal mysteries the basis of their personal life. There 
will naturally be room for differences of opinion on all 
the questions open to general discussion within the 
Church. If there is, as there should be, a real public 
opinion within the Church, not merely an unthinking 
reflection of the Church's official views, a certain ten- 
sion is likely to exist around all those matters that are 
subject to change and hence to free discussion. Unless 
we incorporate the Church's central truths and mys- 
teries into our own living and see that the Church is 
most genuinely herself when she is proclaiming the 
Gospel's good tidings about the grace of God and ad- 
ministering the Christian sacraments, we shall tend, 
when we see signs of this tension, to overestimate its 
significance. The Church as a historical phenomenon 
will set our teeth on edge and this will be entirely 
our own fault: and we shall partly, if not wholly, lose 
our inward joy in the Church and in the true life 
within her. Yet our Lord is alive in the Church; 
through her we can receive his body and hear words 
of true forgiveness these and many other facts of a 
like kind are a thousand times more important than 
for instance the question as to whether the liturgy 


of Holy Saturday should be celebrated in the morning 
or the evening, whether the Church shows herself 
progressive enough in word and deed over some minor 
social question, whether the latest pastoral letter strikes 
one as being sound and modern or antiquated and 
creaking at the joints. It is only possible to combine 
this right sense of proportion about Church matters 
with the ability to share, calmly and constructively, 
in the development of a public opinion within the 
Church and this without any resentment or bitter- 
ness or any indulgence in backbiting if one is really 
in touch with the vital sources at the heart of the 
Church's supernatural activity. 

Assuming that he fulfils these conditions, the lay- 
man must do all he can to make his own personal 
contribution to the development of a public opinion 
within the Church, and its dissemination outside her. 
Anyone who fails to do this is laying himself open, 
and rightly, to criticism. One cannot limit one's share 
in the life of the Church to going to Mass and receiv- 
ing the sacraments and then go on to criticize every- 
thing the Church says and does, especially about 
ordinary social life. The layman should know his 
parish priest. He should also know (and this does not 
mean he must become a "joiner") that there are cer- 
tain types of Church organization to which he is quite 



rightly expected to belong. There is such a thing as 
the Catholic Press, for instance. Now it seems doubt- 
ful whether this is always as good as it might be, but 
it will certainly never be any better than it is as long 
as people, educated Catholics in particular, simply 
assume that it is beneath their dignity to read it and 
support it. If people have any complaints about the 
Catholic Press, they should make them known to 
the people who can do something about it. And when 
the educated Catholic buys Catholic books, and 
buys the right kind of Catholic books, he is partaking 
to some extent in a sort of general vote about them, 
helping in the organization and management of the 
Catholic book trade and at the same time promoting 
the right kinds of books and getting rid of pious trash. 
Writing to newspapers, magazines and book pub- 
lishers is perhaps not a Continental habit, but this does 
not necessarily mean that it is a foolish one or just a 
kind of game. Assuming that the people who do it 
are sensible and that it is not simply a method of killing 
time, writing to papers can be quite a good way of 
getting some sort of public opinion going. Again, how 
many educated Catholics have ever written their 
bishop a letter about a question that is worrying them? 
Probably very few. Is this because they have no con- 



fidence in their bishop, or do they regard the Hier- 
archy as a sort of heavenly body from which the most 
that can be expected is an occasional pastoral letter 
to which it would be presumptuous to answer a word 
of thanks or concern or objection? Such a response 
would assuredly be most gratefully received. The part 
played by the laity in parish life, in the parish's eco- 
nomic affairs, Church schools and such like, is far 
greater in the Anglo-Saxon countries than it is in 
some parts of the Continent. Must this always be so? 
There was a time when Catholic congresses and 
other customs of a like kind, whereby the Church 
spoke in public, outside the range of the pulpit, were 
organized by Catholic laypeople with far more spon- 
taneous enthusiasm for the Kingdom of God than 
they are today. Couldn't this state of affairs be 
restored? Must these undertakings always give us the 
impression of being simply an unavoidable dreary 
routine? Some time ago a prominent layman com- 
plained in an Austrian magazine that the laity had 
not been consulted about the arrangements for the 
yearly mission. Whether this was so or not is not the 
point. If the laity could only make their views known 
(and they would, when asked) , it would undoubtedly 
be very useful before such large-scale ventures took 



place. And why shouldn't the clergy make this a way 
of finding out the kind of question the laity regard 
as particularly urgent and want to hear discussed 
from the pulpit? Are there any Church organizations, 
or at any rate societies with some sort of Catholic 
basis, that dare, or even think, to pass on their worries 
and wishes and their queries about the part the Church 
is playing in public life by way of suggestions to 
the powers-that-be in the Church? One hopes that 
there are, but does this kind of thing happen often? 
In the secular sphere there are bodies that go in for 
market inquiries, Gallup polls and so on, and though 
it is true that salvation is not a matter of statistics, 
certainly not so far as the Catholic Church is con- 
cerned, nevertheless similar investigations in the reli- 
gious field might easily be very useful. But if ques- 
tionnaires of a rather more subtle kind, involving 
more than merely a count of heads in different parishes, 
are to lead to anything, ordinary Catholics, Catho- 
lics who know what life is and what the real conditions 
of life are today, will have to learn to say what they 
think. Recently an Austrian religious magazine made 
an inquiry of this kind into the question how many 
people were making use of what is known nowadays as 
"marriage guidance". Such results could be quite use- 
ful for priests. How many Catholics write to Catholic 



papers? The number is still far too small. Not that 
ordinary Catholics can be expected to know their 
theology better than priests; nor are priests quite so 
hidebound as many Catholics seem to think; further- 
more, ordinary Catholics should only speak about 
these fundamental things when they have really 
studied the question and have something to say. 
Nevertheless the fact remains that questions of faith, 
questions in which the Church and religion are in- 
volved, are not esoteric matters in the face of which 
laymen must be seen and not heard. They should 
be expected to join in too. But precisely for this reason 
they must do it properly, off their own bat. These are 
just a few of the ways of helping to foster the growth 
of a public opinion within the Church, and others 
can easily be imagined: they will all provide an oppor- 
tunity for the ordinary Catholic to fulfil a personal 
duty, the duty of taking his own part in the Church's 
life and missionary work. 

There is one other point that may be mentioned, to 
bring these reflections to an end. In the course of the 
Church's history there have, at different times, been a 
number of different ways in which public opinion has 
been able to make itself felt within the Church. It 
exerted some sort of influence on the conduct of the 
hierarchy through such things as the share taken by 



the laity in the election of bishops and in nominating 
the rest of the clergy, in admitting people to baptism 
and reconciling repentant sinners; the right of patron- 
age; the rights of medieval and modern govern- 
ments with regard to the filling of bishoprics; and 
so on. But compared with the present-day expressions 
of public opinion these old forms had one outstanding 
feature: they were properly drawn up from the legal 
point of view and formed part of the layman's rights 
within the Church. They were of their time, of course, 
and were often bound up with irregularities: no one 
would wish them back again exactly as they were; 
nevertheless, it is true to say that there is by com- 
parison very little, if any, recognized way in which 
public opinion can make itself felt within the Church 
today, according to modern canon law. This does not 
mean that there is no such thing as a public opinion 
within the Church. It would be quite wrong to say 
that. But it would not be wrong to say that there are 
hardly any ways with the force of law behind them 
whereby public opinion can operate within the 
Church. Whether this is a pity or not is another ques- 
tion, which need not necessarily be answered in the 
affirmative here. But at least the problem can be stated. 
Today, we know, is the day of Catholic Action, 



when ordinary Catholics are meant to be sharing, to 
some extent, the Church's duties and responsibilities 
with the official Hierarchy. Now, if this is not to re- 
main simply a matter of theory, an "ideal," but to be- 
come the fullest possible reality, it would seem to 
require as also in the long run it would effect the 
growth of new, legally recognized ways, which today 
hardly exist, if they exist at all, in which the laity could 
co-operate with the clergy. The fact that these rights 
do not at present exist within the Church, either by 
jus divinmn or as a jus humanum, is no reason why 
they should not do so again in the future. They must 
always of course remain within and dependent upon 
the jus divinum of the Hierarchy and what is to a cer- 
tain extent the Hierarchy's exclusive power of leader- 
ship, granted it by our Lord himself; nevertheless 
there are still such things as layman's rights. The 
granting of such rights may be a benefit all round, in 
fact at certain times and in certain conditions it may 
be an obligation on the Church. How these rights, 
whether of a general or a particular kind, would look 
in practice, is a subject that naturally cannot be gone 
into here. The question here is simply whether the in- 
fluence of public opinion within the Church, as some- 
thing which exists and should exist, might not in 



certain respects, in some form or other, be given some 
sort of legal backing so as to become effective, and 
effective in the right way. 

Ultimately it all boils down to the fact that every 
individual Christian is responsible in his own day and 
way for the Church and the life of the Church. If 
the reader has become a little more aware of his 
responsibility in this respect as a result of what has 
been said, then I have achieved what I set out to do. 
St. Cyprian, writing in the middle of the third cen- 
tury, began a treatise on patience by observing that he 
had to assume in his reader the existence of the thing 
he was about to recommend. This present essay may 
end on a similar note. Many things that have been 
said in the course of it are probably highly debatable 
and in need of more profound treatment than they 
have been accorded here. To expect them to be read 
and pondered with a good will was to assume the ex- 
istence of that which in fact they are concerned with, 
namely, the belief that there is and should be some- 
thing in the nature of free speech within the Church 
as there is outside it, and that consequently even 
people who have nothing more to offer than their 
own private and personal opinions have a right to 
express these and to be given a favourable hearing 
when they do so. 



THE CHRISTIAN must "profess" his faith. This faith 
of his includes, amongst other things, the knowledge 
that it is "glad tidings" from God to every succeed- 
ing age of men, suited to every condition, easily recog- 
nizable as being of divine origin. He must know that 
the gates of hell will never prevail against the Church; 
that Christianity provides the solution to every prob- 
lem. But the Christian of today, anxious to live his 
faith and to bear his own personal witness to it, often 
finds it hard to see his faith as suited to his own age, 
to remember that it is indeed glad tidings from God, 
safe from the onslaughts of any hostile power. What is 
he to do: give up his belief in the triumphant power 
of Christianity as a faith for the future, or put him- 
self in blinkers and try to ignore the sober realities of 
the age he lives in? Usually he does neither: he is a 
Christian, but a half-hearted one; he is half-hearted, 



but won't admit It, because as a Christian he is afraid 
to. This is all the more dangerous in that every Chris- 
tian is not only the object of the Church's spiritual 
care as someone destined for salvation but at the same 
time a member of the Church and as such partly 
responsible for her continued existence and the fulfil- 
ment of her mission in the world. Every Christian has 
to some extent or other, according to his condition in 
life, the duties and responsibilities of a missionary and 
an apostle, and it is therefore a matter of some im- 
portance whether he acquits himself of these cheer- 
fully or in a state of fear. And it must be said that 
when in fact, shedding our illusions, we come to in- 
quire about the "mood" of the average Christian 
today, we find it difficult to reach any particularly 
cheering conclusions in the matter, either about the 
clergy or about the laity. 

Frank confession harms no one. If there is anything 
humiliating in it, it is not the actual confessing but 
the thing we have to confess, which Is still with us 
even if we do not admit it, but go around in a dejected 
half-hearted frame of mind trying to keep the dread- 
ful truth from others and ourselves. Let us admit quite 
frankly what the position is. We are the people who 
feel out of place in the world. We are the frustrated 



ones, preferring to bear witness to our faith (in fear 
and trembling, but before the world, not before God) 
where it suits us, rather than where it might not go 
down so well. We do not feel highly optimistic about 
things. We often have the feeling naturally without 
admitting it to ourselves that we are talking into 
the empty air. When we speak about our Christianity, 
the most precious thing we possess, we are received 
or so it seems anyway by deaf ears and hearts closed 
against us, rather than with the eager attention of 
minds thoroughly alert. We often feel as though we 
cannot hope to speak to most people in any way that 
they could understand. We have, too, an unpleasant 
sense, whenever we hear the sound of our own voice, 
that it is not particularly surprising that nobody 
listens to us. Doesn't a great deal of what we say 
sound strange in our own ears outmoded, utterly out 
of date? It is still lodged in our heads, as a hangover 
from the days when we learned our catechism, but it 
no longer comes from our hearts: so it is hardly to 
be wondered at that it no longer gets into the heads 
of other people. 

If anyone begins to protest at this point that he 
himself is a thoroughly convinced Christian, he had 
better be careful. For he might get asked the question 



whether his own actual words and behaviour are as 
attractive and compelling to others as they should be, 
if his claim to be full of courageous orthodoxy is to 
ring true. If he lays the blame on the evil times he lives 
in, and the hard, guilty hearts of the people he has 
failed to win over to his own faith, then he must be 
prepared to answer the further question as to whether, 
and how, he can be so sure that his fellow men whom 
as a Christian he is supposed not to judge are as 
wickedly hard-hearted as he says they are and whether 
it wouldn't be more Christian because more humble 
to blame himself instead of them? He must answer 
the question as to whether the times really are as evil 
as he makes them out to be, or whether it may not be 
that we ourselves have not grown up sufficiently to 
cope with our own day as well as earlier generations 
of Christians did with theirs, when in fact things were 
no worse, but only different. 

We are often quite intimidated, quite sullen and 
bitter almost embittered and frustrated, quite con- 
tent if the rest of the world is merely prepared to 
tolerate us. Of course we are furious if anyone actually 
says this to our face. We don't want to be like this 
and that is quite right of us. We don't want to be 
taken for the kind of people who have tamely suc- 
cumbed to circumstance. We are not cowards or 


deserters; if we were, how could we be servants of 
Jesus Christ? The will of our faith, our spirit, speaks 
out clearly: we will to be other than in fact we are, 
human beings whose many-levelled nature has not, or 
not yet, or not completely, been mastered by the grace 
of Christ. But that is what we are. And any improve- 
ment can only come from a frank confession of this 
a confession that has nothing to do with compromise. 

But this is not all. We must go on to confess that 
not only are we half-hearted, but that we believe 
unconsciously that we have every reason to be half- 
hearted, to be in the apostolic dumps. Let us leave 
aside for the moment the fact of our own mediocrity, 
the fact that our minds, our characters, our lives with 
all their anxieties, seem to put the light of the Gospel 
in the shade and sometimes almost under a bushel. 
Apart from all this, we seem to ourselves to have 
enough objective grounds outside ourselves to account 
for our own private spirit of defeatism; and because 
these grounds seem to be facts, firm hard facts which 
in our short, circumscribed lives there seems no possi- 
bility of changing, we feel we have no hope of ever 
damming up the sources of our creeping dejection, 
which threatens, like some illness, to go with us to the 

Let us take a good look round. After the two 



thousand years of its history Catholic Christianity is 
still confined to a small fraction of the human race, 
and, despite all successes in the mission field, this 
minority is growing steadily smaller, because numeri- 
cally the human race is increasing more rapidly than 
the number of conversions. 

In vast areas of the world Christianity is a perse- 
cuted religion, slowly but surely being throttled out 
of existence by all the means available to modern states, 
with their police forces and their systems of thought 
control now beginning to penetrate into the ultimate 
recesses of the human heart and brain. And even if we 
take the most optimistic view we can of the under- 
ground movements and modern catacomb Churches 
in these areas of the world and in fact accept all that 
is said about them in Church papers and missionary 
magazines, this can do nothing to lessen our alarm. If 
things go on in the same way for a few more decades 
and where is any change likely to come from? 
Christianity (and that means primarily Catholic 
Christianity) will be reduced in our half of the world 
to something like what the Hussites once were, or the 
Waldensians, or the Dutch Jansenists in the nineteenth 
century: it may continue to exist, but so far as the 
world and world history generally are concerned it 



won't count though the Church is supposed to stand 
out as a "sign lifted up among the nations". From the 
human and purely secular point of view it will have 
no future whatsoever. 

And what about the position on the other side of 
the Iron Curtain, where some of us live, still live? 
A civilization, or rather a lack of civilization, charac- 
terized by the mass-man and technology, by noise and 
pleasure, worry and anxiety, the atrophy of the relig- 
ious sense, by utter sexual licence and the disintegra- 
tion of the instincts: by manufacture rather than 
creation, the artificial instead of the God-given; by the 
flight from self, the profane and the profaned; a world 
from which God is utterly absent. The Christian reli- 
gion and its adherents seem to be still there only be- 
cause the old order is taking so long to vanish 
completely. And a horrible dilemma rears its head; for 
when Christianity tries to adapt modern methods 
yesterday's methods, tomorrow's methods to its own 
purposes, it seems to become just as artificial, just as 
manufactured, just as fiercely organized, as everything 
else; and if it ignores the new methods it seems to lag 
hopelessly behind the times. 

If we look a little nearer home, we seem to be faced 
with the same depressing state of affairs. Germany is 



once more a missionary land, or it should be, i.e., it 
needs to be brought back to the Church. Anyone who 
does not adopt the tactics of the ostrich, or who does 
not simply concentrate on the fact that he is one of 
the few Christians left, can feel it every day, We live 
in a pagan country with a Christian past. We live 
among the remains of Christianity. But it can no 
longer be said that from the point of view of this 
world alone, the dominant tendency of our time, the 
major impulse behind present-day events, is taking 
our history towards Christianity. We Christians are 
on the defensive. All that we do seems at best only to 
delay a process set firmly against us, never to reverse 
its direction. Every attempt we make to take up the 
offensive seems to come to an end before it has really 
got going. In fact we often defend historical f agades, 
the laws and customs of what was once socially, poli- 
tically and intellectually a Christian community, with 
the secret feeling that we have no right to be doing 
so because the surface of our community is really more 
Christian than the reality behind it, and because we, 
as citizens, seem at the moment to possess more in the 
way of social and political rights than the number of 
really convinced Christians amongst us warrants. 
Moreover, so long as the private individual is allowed 



to go on living the new paganism in his own way this 
often seems to be to a surprising extent far more tol- 
erant towards the Christian externals of public life 
than were the furious secularists and anti-clericals of 
the nineteenth century* Have people become kinder 
and more tolerant towards us in these pagan times be- 
cause they are not so afraid of us as they used to be, 
because fundamentally they feel that they no longer 
need take us seriously? However that may be, on this 
particular point we must not be in too much of a 
hurry to take comfort from the kindnesses, little or 
great, that the great world of unbelievers is prepared 
to show towards Christianity today, to the Church 
and the Pope and our bishops, as though the position 
were quite different from what it was for instance in 
the last century. The spring-times of Catholic and 
Christian awakening that followed the two world 
wars have gone for ever and entirely. To change the 
metaphor, that period looks now, in retrospect, like 
the advance of a deep river flowing irresistibly along, 
which seems for a moment to turn back on itself be- 
cause something or other has blocked its path. We have 
become strangers to the world; the world itself seems 
to be calling the tune, and to regard Christianity as 
something left over from the boasted past of the West, 



something fit only to be embalmed in some museum or 
to serve the dreams of childish romantics and the im- 
provement schemes of political restorationists. 

And this Church of ours in tired old Europe, this 
Church that is us, seems to be tired herself. The Faith 
now seems in many respects to be just marking time 
theoretically and to be no longer lived existentially, 
just as so many people go on saying what a wonderful 
musician Bach is and yet listen to nothing but jazz 
on the wireless. Where can you hear a sermon on hell 
these days? How many people, when they see someone 
faced with everlasting damnation, cry out in a loud 
voice, with conviction, in anguish, "Save your soul!"? 
How many still have, deep in their hearts, the Chris- 
tian fear of death and the Last Judgment? How many 
are capable of feeling desperately worried I mean in 
the quiet of their own minds, not as an official gesture 
when some Catholic acquaintance of theirs dies 
without the last sacraments? How many, as shame- 
lessly thick-skinned as the saints, dare to whisper in 
the ear of those who don't want to listen that they 
must be converted and have pity on themselves? How 
many priests are there who go off and face the Areo- 
pagites of the secular world as St. Paul did? How many 
people have these priests converted, not by seeing them 



by appointment but by going out to find them like 
missionaries and by going a long way, even if only 
over the seas and abysses of the mind that exist today? 
It is strange: when the modern priest makes a mis- 
sionary onslaught on anybody, he usually does it by 
reminding the person concerned that he is really a 
Christian already (i.e., baptized and brought up as a 
Catholic). Why doesn't he do it instead with the 
thought that this man is a pagan who must become a 
Christian? Today we treat even pagans as though they 
belonged to some Christian denomination, as do 

And what about Christian doctrine itself, as it is 
to be found in the inner sanctums of the Church? Isn't 
Christian theology a tame thing today, so far as we 
Catholics are concerned, anyway? An awful lot of it 
is being produced, but it is alarmingly little compared 
with all the other books being produced about the in- 
tellectual and unintellectual life of the times. 
Theological "modernism" was, on the whole, rightly 
censured and condemned to silence; but at the same 
time the safe and trusty theologians hardly give the 
impression that they have the power to preach the old 
faith to a new age in a new, fresh way. And isn't there 
something rather strange and disturbing about the 


way the emphasis seems to shift about, from one Chris- 
tian truth to another? A Christian social movement 
is highly thought of, but is that the most important 
thing, in the light of the Gospels? 

Furthermore, are there not what might be called 
"cryptogam" heresies, which cannot be detected be- 
cause they are not theoretically formulated, but only 
practically lived, heresies which never make any actual 
protest but simply let the Church have her say and 
then do the opposite and whisper it in private conver- 
sation heresies in behaviour, in attitude to life, in 
actual living, which can go hand in hand quite in- 
genuously, or ingeniously, with Church membership? 

And then there is the matter of the holiness of our 
own lives. Leaving aside all the scandals and there 
have been quite a few we have only to make a few 
inquiries into the general spiritual and ascetic level of 
the lives of average people like ourselves, into the 
figures for the priesthood and the monastic orders; we 
have only to look round about us for examples of the 
1 "inspired folly" of the saints why, we don't even 
know today, as former generations did, what such 
folly would look like! and the answer is quite plain. 

In short, we have, it seems, every objective reason to 
be resigned and defeatist in our attitude. Does not all 



this suggest, or rather demand, that we should adopt 
a sober realism and see things as they actually are? 
What is one to say in answer to this? 

Let me try now to put all that has been said above 
into a nutshell, into a brief and somewhat more precise 
theological formula, at the risk of oversimplifying the 
matter and of dodging a few answers to individual 
questions. We Christians, then, against our own deep- 
est will, are often fainthearted in our approach to our 
apostolic duties because, when we look out upon the 
present state of Christianity and the Church in our 
own country and the world, we seem to see no prospect 
that our struggle to get official Catholic Christianity 
recognized and accepted in the tangible reality of the 
world and our own history (even to the extent already 
reached in the West) will end in anything but failure. 
Look closely at what I have said. I do not say that we 
are afraid that Christianity will disappear off the face 
of the earth. That, from the religious point of view, 
would be a heresy and the end of all faith if it were 
presented as being in any sense a justification for such 
a fear. The fear itself would be a sign of cowardice, 
which, as believers, we should have to fight hard 
against and disavow. Moreover, even on a purely 
secular view of history, on an estimation of the posi- 

6 5 


tion based wholly on this world, it would be child- 
ishly short-sighted. No world-wide phenomenon as 
vast, both materially and spiritually, as Christianity, 
as deep, as strongly-rooted in every sphere of life and 
culture, could, even on the most pessimistic estimates, 
be in danger of disappearing off the face of the earth 
in any foreseeable future. This is certain, quite apart 
from God's grace and power, and his everlasting 
promises. Such a danger does not exist, even in the 
case of the other great world religions like Mohamme- 
danism and Buddhism. It is still more inconceivable in 
the case of Christianity. For Christianity and this 
can never be undone has been, historically, the re- 
ligion behind the one civilization whose intellectual, 
cultural, political and religious activity and expansion 
has created world history as we now know it, the 
interpenetration of the histories of all the different 
races into one, for the first time since the dispersal of 
the nations related in Genesis. Such a religion would 
not disappear entirely from the face of the earth in 
any foreseeable future even if it were not a thing 
-created and preserved by the living God, the Lord of 
the Ages. 

The question that really tempts us to be defeatist 
(and it needs to be frankly stated) is, rather, simply 



this: now that human history has become one, will 
Christianity go on being a force in the international 
field, to at least the same degree as it has been so far 
in Western civilization and the European society of 
nations? This is not simply a question of fact which 
we can leave to the future, as having no religious or 
theological importance. For we cannot simply say that 
as long as Christianity goes on existing to the end of 
time, in the persons of a few representatives left over 
as a sort of atavistic remnant from the past, then 
God's promise that the gates of hell shall not prevail 
against it has been fulfilled. Nor can we simply say 
that the Church came into being through a few (from 
a purely worldly point of view) hopelessly misguided 
people who believed in the bodily resurrection of an 
idealist who had been hanged on the gallows, and yet 
that she was, even at that stage, actually the Church, 
with all her essential concomitants, and that therefore 
she can again be reduced to the same embryonic stage 
without there being any reason for disquiet on re- 
ligious or theological grounds. For this is precisely the 
question. Can such a retrogression take place in the 
case of something that has, from the historical point 
of view, set out on an essentially one-way track, with- 
out this being a sign that the thing in question is in 



imminent danger of collapse? Will it not seem to 
everyone to be destined for extinction, even though 
historical remnants of it still go on existing for what 
seems for ever? And will not those watching this 
retrogression feel compelled to say that this Church 
was not founded by God with the promise that it 
would triumph over death? Again, vice versai from 
the theological point of view the Church is not always 
equally herself, irrespective of whether she is a scared 
little group or a great society covering the whole 
world. The fact that she began as a tiny flock does 
nothing to controvert this. A human being, too, begins 
in a very embryonic and helpless way, and yet he 
realizes his full being as planned and intended only 
when he is fully grown. The Church is not merely a 
large or a small number of people, as chance may see 
fit to decide; she is a "sign lifted up amongst the 
nations", and she must bear the sign of her divine 
foundation plainly for all men of goodwill to see. Her 
vitality, her holiness, her inexhaustible fecundity, 
must be plain to all eyes in the open forum of the 
wide world and in the history and civilization of the 
world; thus she herself will be a motive of faith. Could 
she be such the question is at least worth asking if 
her real position in the history of the peoples of the 


world were gradually to decline? This question, even 
in the restricted form in which we have phrased it, is 
not easy to answer at first sight. 

When we try to explain what has been said above 
and to go beyond the merely factual element in it 
our half-heartedness and the obvious reasons for such 
an attitude and try to discover how we can put an 
end to it, we find ourselves faced with two problems. 
We have to ask ourselves, firstly, whether the actual 
fact of Christianity's being on the defensive (assum- 
ing we simply accept this "factual condition" as a 
fact) is a good and sufficient reason for our unac- 
knowledged half-heartedness. Then we have to turn 
to the actual fact itself and ask ourselves how we must 
understand it. The first question, therefore, is con- 
cerned with our anxiety, the second with the reason 
for our anxiety. And the first question comes first be- 
cause (however strange this may seem at first sight) 
ultimately, from the theological point of view, the 
answer to it is quite independent of the answer to 
the second question, which is predominantly taken 
from the philosophy of history. 

LET us assume to begin with that all the grounds men- 
tioned above for our apostolical defeatism are good 
and sufficient ones. Has our defeatism, then, a right to 
exist, just because we know that there is a real cause 
behind it? The answer is even on this (problemati- 
cal) assumption no. Why not? 

From the point of view of the Catholic faith a 
defeatist attitude towards Christianity is not in any 
way justifiable on the above "grounds". For faith con- 
sists precisely in hoping against hope, in holding firmly 
to something beyond human reason as the ground of 
all existence. Faith means walking on water, standing 
up straight when there is every reason to fall down. 
Faith means including God in one's scheme of things, 
though God himself remains outside all human power 
and beyond any possible scheme which human beings 
may fabricate; it means building on grace, which is 



always and only grace, i.e., an event undeserved, always 
purely actual, depending entirely on God's gracious 
will. If we are Christians we are called upon to put 
all our trust in God, in God alone, without working 
out in advance whether our faith has any chance or 
not. "Has Christianity still got a chance?" is a ques- 
tion that as Christians assuming we are such to begin 
with we cannot ask. The moment we do so in earnest, 
then, to that extent, we have already left the ground 
of faith. We are demanding, not God or the grace of 
God, but some guarantee which we can hold in our 
hands, something sufficient and effective in itself, 
before we are prepared to believe and trust him. We 
are prepared to fight only if victory is in fact assured 
from the outset. We are prepared to say Yes to God, 
if we have first been allowed to say Yes to ourselves 
and our own situation. We are prepared to appear 
before God only as people already justified, instead 
of surrendering ourselves to him as people needing 

Our characteristic modern attitude to faith simply 
takes concrete shape in the question that faces us; 
it is not especially strange. For faith, without God's 
elevating and healing grace, is always the Impossible. 
It is of course true that there exist grounds for faith 



which are in themselves objective and demonstrable, 
which the believer can see for himself and explain 
to others; true, too, that the grace of faith is offered 
to everyone, so that there is always a real possibility 
of discussion about the Faith, even with people who 
do not as yet share it. Nevertheless, in actual con- 
crete fact, faith only comes through the grace of 
God, and this alone can provide the concrete indi- 
vidual human being wounded in mind and will as 
he is through original sin with the assistance he 
needs if he is to go beyond all those other "grounds" 
that seem to him to justify his unbelief. But if the 
grace of God is necessary, and yet at the same time 
quite different from the rational, objectively verifiable 
motives for faith springing purely from this world, 
then, if one leaves the grace of faith out of account, 
it must always seem in actual concrete fact as though 
it were more sensible and prudent not to believe than 
to believe, as though there were always grounds that 
seemed to justify the wisdom of the world. 

But whatever is valid for all time is (along with 
other things) especially relevant to our own question 
here: the fact is that we only really begin to believe 
when we do not start by asking whether Christian- 
ity has any chance today. If the specifying inner 



motive of our faith is judged wholly by this world's 
standards which means, in the present case, the 
empirically ascertainable prospects of success, again 
judged by standards of the world, for the Church and 
Christianity then our faith is a human achievement, 
brittle, destined to be surpassed and renounced like 
all human things, and not an act of God upon us, 
accepted by a free act of will. And so, vice versa, if 
faith is an act of God upon us, something that takes 
place by the power of God, then it cannot depend on 
whether there is any predetermined certainty that 
the chances of Christianity are good, leaving God's 
word and promise out of account as things never 
adequately realized in the "facts" of this world. 

The question of our private defeatist attitude thus 
turns out to be a brutally simple question about faith 
itself, the question of whether we really believe. If we 
do, then what follows from the facts we put forward 
as grounds for our concealed anxiety is, even though 
they are facts, precisely nothing. We may not know 
how we are going to pull through, but we must believe 
that we shall, and this not in spite of the fact that, to 
our great surprise, we do not know how, but because 
our very faith consists precisely in expecting not to 
know how in advance, and having to build on God's 



word alone his word having more weight and 
validity for us than any number of alarming ct f acts" 
that may come into our ken. These facts, rightly con- 
sidered i.e., from a believer's point of view force 
us to decide either to believe as faith itself would have 
us believe, or to be unbelievers; what they do not do is 
to force us into a defeatist condition of half-belief 
that goes on fighting without really believing in 
ultimate success. We are asked to decide whether or 
not we are the kind of people who know from their 
faith that in human impotence is manifested the 
power of God and it alone, and in utter ignorance 
of how this will come about; whether or not we value 
the darkness of the world more highly than the light 
of God, the fleeting show of history above God's 
patience and long-suffering; whether or not we regard 
the folly of the Cross as something wiser than the 
wisdom of the world and that out-of-date thing 
called Christianity as a thing more modern than the 
"modern world". The "unpropitious" facts are not an 
obstacle or a source of surprise and disenchantment to 
people who really believe; they are to be expected: 
it is just a question of girding up one's loins and facing 
them boldly, under the inspiration and protection of 
the Faith. 



Does this mean that all believers who are trying 
wholeheartedly to do God's will are quite free from 
the kind of anxiety that has been described above? 
Have they so completely conquered it that not the 
faintest trace remains? Are we expected to behave as 
though it were not in fact within the very marrow of 
our bones? Are we supposed to regard it as at best a 
fairly obvious symptom of the weakness of our faith? 
These questions are not easy to answer. We must cer- 
tainly make a decent effort to be happy and enthusi- 
astic about our faith, to be free from anxiety and 
imbued with a determined optimism, to have a thor- 
oughly convinced faith, in fact; if we fail to do this 
with every power at our command we are really 
"tempting" God. But faith can be real faith, trium- 
phant, utterly devoted, and yet manifest itself in 
continual struggle too. Ultimately it is not we but 
only God who can decide in which of these two ways 
his grace will choose to manifest itself to us. 

It may be that today more than in any other age 
grace will be granted us and a real grace it is! to be 
strong in spite of our feeling of helplessness, full of 
hope in spite of our dismay, sure of ultimate victory 
though sorely besieged. Why should not Christians, 
nailed to the cross of their historical situation, have to 



cry out as our Lord himself cried out, "My God, my 
God, why hast thou forsaken me? 5 ' Why should they 
not have to share their Redeemer's bitter agony, sweat- 
ing blood as they too lie prostrate on the ground? The 
more, therefore, that we have to fight exhaustion 
and cowardice and unacknowledged faintheartedness 
in ourselves and denounce these things in others, the 
more we should calmly confess (thereby giving God's 
grace its proper due) , "Yes, we are those who so often 
hardly know which way to turn, who frequently do 
not know the right answers, who only have enough 
spiritual bread in our baskets for one day at a time 
and have to hope to build our future on that, having 
no idea where tomorrow's bread is to come from, 
except that it will come from God." The world has 
to bluster its way through, turning all its com- 
muniques into proclamations of everlasting victory. 
The Christian has no need of this. His Credo includes 
those few words spoken down from the Cross, and the 
pages of Church history have therefore no need to be 
a collection of victorious proclamations. "In the world 
you will have sorrow", we have been told by him who 
is Lord of History, so why shouldn't we allow ourselves 
to admit it: "Yes, we have sorrow"? To the believer, 
who is always conscious of a further dimension of 

7 6 


existence far beyond this world, "things are going 
badly for us" means not that things are going badly 
for us, but that things are going badly for God and 
God's cause; whereas, so far as "things are going well" 
is concerned, in the logic of faith in which God is 
included (and faith alone can do this) this saying is 
perfectly compatible with the first. 



ONCE THIS position has been accepted, i.e., that the 
Faith is something that can judge everything but 
never be judged itself, then, and only then, can we 
go on and take a sober look at the apparent "facts" 
that cause all of us so much anxiety and distress and 
constitute a permanent temptation to defeatism so 
far as the Faith is concerned. How are these facts in 
fact to be understood? One can do one's best to 
present apparently objective facts, and yet really be 
giving an interpretation with a strong subjective bias 
instead of making an objective statement. One can 
seem to be merely repeating something, and yet in 
fact be saying something quite different. Two eye- 
witnesses of a raging battle may say for instance, 
"There's a retreat going on", and to the more short- 
sighted one this may mean the admission of an anni- 
hilating defeat, whilst to the other, with the longer 



view, it can signify a piece of strategy promising even- 
tual victory. So making a list of the reasons for our 
defeatism, as we did at the beginning of this essay, is 
by no means the end of the matter. "We still have to ask 
what these reasons are really saying what, looked at 
more closely, they mean. In attempting to answer this, 
many of the philosophical and theological points 
known to us from our history must inevitably be left 
unanswered, of course, but even so some considera- 
tion of this problem cannot be entirely fruitless, for 
it will at least show us that we need to adopt a very 
critical attitude towards our immediate uncorrobo- 
rated first impressions, and that a great deal that is 
included under the heading of our "facts" is really 
tinged with subjectivism from the outset. 

It has been pointed out already that from the purely 
theological point of view it is unsatisfactory that 
there should be a mere handful of Christians in ex- 
istence, and that the Church, once having "grown 
up", needs to continue as a great force in the world 
and world history. And precisely because it is a source 
of anxiety to us not to know whether the Church can 
go on being this, and if so how, that some attempt to 
see the matter in the light of the theology of history 
will not be out of place here. It should then become 



clear that our alarm at the prospect of a much reduced 
Church has less reason behind it than might appear at 
first sight. I will say quite plainly then, that the kind 
of public, external importance which the Church has 
had for the last thousand or fifteen hundred years, 
and which we still instinctively regard as the obvious 
standard whereby to judge of the Church's achieve- 
ment, was not only a concrete manifestation of what 
the Church must be and (once having attained it) 
must go on being in accordance with her supernatural 
essence and mission. It was also (though to what 
degree it is not easy to lay down) the result of a purely 
arbitrary and temporary concatenation of historical 
circumstances, so that if these pass away, there is 
possible a change in the Church's public significance 
without change in the Church's essence thereby being 
brought into question. 

To explain and support this statement, the matter 
must be gone into a little more closely. Perhaps the 
practical consequences to be drawn from it will 
justify the extent to which I am obliged to go into 
detail. To begin with I shall offer an idea of a rather 
a priori theological kind, and then I shall approach 
the matter from a more historical-empirical point of 
view, and I shall try to show that neither from the 



>a priori theological point of view nor from the a 
posteriori historical point of view could we expect the 
particular form in which the Church's prestige and 
"power" in public life has been handed down to us 
so far to continue unchanged in the future. 

I start from the assumption that Christianity and 
the Church will go on being a stumbling-block and 
a point of contention until the end of time, and that 
this is not merely a fact for all to see. It is something 
more, part of a mysterious "destiny", stressed again 
and again in Scripture, whereby human guilt, some- 
thing that should not be, remains everlastingly en- 
compassed within the divine scheme of things. Not 
that God wills human guilt to exist; but he uses it 
throughout history, even though it is against his will, 
to help him to realize his plans. Thus in the eyes of the 
believer, who tries to see everything from God's own 
standpoint, this "inevitable" element is not simply 
something that he may take into account if he feels 
like it, but something that he is obliged to take into 
account, something that he has been expecting quite 
calmly all along and can never be surprised at. What 
form will this hostility to the Church this everlasting 
hostility, which need never surprise us, which we must 
always look for what form will it take in the future? 



So long as the Church was in practice limited to 
one area of history and civilization. Western Europe, 
the "hostility" could come from "outside", because 
there was in fact an "outside", whilst at the same time 
the Church could be, so to speak, "omnipotent", the 
uncontested lord and master of this limited area, with 
all her opponents outside her practical heresies ulti- 
mately deriving from the East and Christendom's 
traditional enemy, the Turk. 

But one day this "outside" will cease to exist and 
this may take centuries, of course because the 
Church has become universal in the "outward" sense 
too; then (the other essential condition) the hitherto 
separate histories of the various nations of the world 
will have come together to form one single whole, in 
which each separate race, each historical situation, 
becomes of inner significance to all the others. When 
this at last takes place, the hostility to the Church, 
from the theology of history's point of view, can no 
longer come from "outside" but will be obliged in 
the mysterious sense of destiny mentioned above to 
arise within Christianity itself in the form of schism 
and apostasy; otherwise the Church would be either 
uncontested master or, to a certain extent, the insular 
Church of a particular civilization in decline. 



Neither alternative is possible. As a matter of fact 
the first signs of the split and the de-Christianization 
of the Western world by the Reformation and Renais- 
sance "enlightenment" came at the very moment 
when Europe was beginning to expand across the 
world and the Church was becoming a world Church 
in actual concrete fact. By spreading abroad among all 
the pagan nations she became a Church amongst the 
pagan nations. This dual event was accompanied of 
course by a vast amount of human wrongdoing and 
appalling tragedy, but nevertheless, seen from the 
bird's-eye view of a theology of history, it took place 
within the context of a mysterious destiny. 

To the Christian, this destiny can never be a matter 
for surprise or dismay: it is to be expected, for guilt 
and hostility to our Lord are indeed to be expected 
until the end of time. The loss of the Church's absolute 
power in public life, which existed throughout the 
Middle Ages and we may regard the Middle Ages as 
having come to an end with the French Revolution 
was thus, theologically speaking, to be expected, al- 
though it involved so much incidental evil. The 
medieval form of the Church's power over society, the 
State, and civilization in general, cannot by any means 
be regarded as something essentially demanded by the 



nature of the Church, if it is her destiny to be a per- 
manent stumbling-block and at the same time a truly 
universal Church: that form was only possible as long 
as the Church was the Church of a more or less 
restricted area. The moment the West became an un- 
enclosed part of world-history, such a form was im- 
possible, for then hostility to the Church had to exist 
either everywhere or nowhere. But because it had to 
exist, it had to exist everywhere. "Oh you uncompre- 
hending ones, had not Christ to suffer?" applies here 
too, in connection with our Lord's suffering in the 
history of the world. 

As a matter of fact and here we come to the more 
empirical side of our consideration even the medieval 
form of the Church's position in public life did not 
spring solely and entirely from the supernatural power 
of Christianity and the Church. In its actuality at 
least, if not in its theological essence, it was also the 
result of a concatenation of historical events that were 
time-bound and of this world, a compound of history 
and civilization rather than anything purely theologi- 
cal. Every "medieval period", one might say ie., 
every civilization that is based principally on a peasant 
population and small townships, and remains in a static 
condition over a long period of time has its own un- 



controverted dominant religion, no matter whether it 
is true or false, comes from above or below, or is 
known as medieval Mohammedanism or the feudal 
Shintoism of medieval Japan or anything else. The 
supernatural power of Christianity is not revealed by 
the mere fact that, like the dominant religions in other 
civilizations, it has exerted well-nigh uncontested 
absolute authority over human hearts and civilized 
institutions for a period of time that was bound one 
day to pass. This belief, beloved by so many people, 
will not really hold water for any historian or philoso- 
pher of history. The power of Christianity is to be 
found rather in the fact that on the disappearance of 
these passing temporal historical situations it has mani- 
fested, even on the empirical level, and despite all its 
apostasies and casualties, an incomparably greater 
power of resistance and persistence than any of the 
other religions which have had their own happy Middle 
Ages. And, further, in the fact that the Church's posi- 
tion in medieval Europe was such that Christianity 
was able to come forth in full strength from that 
civilization and accompany it throughout the world 
and thus become a universal religion on the empirical 
level too. 

"We thus undoubtedly have the right, indeed the 



duty, to face the fact squarely and not simply give it 
a grudging acknowledgment that the form in which 
the Church manifests itself in the life of society in 
general may change. But despite the disturbing ele- 
ment in this fact namely the de-Christianization of 
the West there is still no excuse for timidity. How 
the new manifestation of the Church's essential nature 
will appear, in the general context of what is now a 
unified world history, still remains to be seen, and not 
much can be said about it at the moment. The Church 
will still be the Church; she will be present as a con- 
crete challenge to all men at all times, which in the 
past was by no means the case. She will appear more 
personal and less institutional in nature, more on 
the side of the individual's own personal initiative and 
less dependent on the preventive power of established 
cultural factors such as customs, traditions, laws and 
State regulations which exist independently of the 
individual. Whether this kind of Church authority is 
less powerful, so far as the Church's fundamental 
supernatural mission is concerned, than the old form it 
is destined to supplant, is a question that can just as 
easily be answered in the negative as in the affirmative. 
In all that relates to our supernatural salvation, the 
Church's power and authority in the world are not 



obliged to be absolutely fixed and unvarying, nor 
must the way she acts upon the world always take the 
same form just because (as we believe) she cannot 
undergo any essential change. "What we see today is in 
many respects not primarily a decline of the Church's 
Influence, so far as salvation is concerned, but a change 
in the way her influence takes effect. It must be re- 
membered that the Church's existence as a public 
body and her authority in the social and cultural life 
of the day do not exist for their own sake but for 
the sake of the salvation of souls. These things can 
only have any meaning and justify their existence in 
so far as they serve this end. Anyone who has lived 
in what is superficially a rather churchy atmosphere 
will know that such an atmosphere does not neces- 
sarily help on the work of salvation. It may, for 
instance, be doubted whether the power of the Papacy 
in the days of the Church State did more for the 
salvation of souls than the Pope's influence at the 
present time on people living in the same area. And has 
the Church, so far as her supernatural effect on the 
salvation of souls is concerned, any more influence on 
the public life of Spain, despite her authority there, 
than she has in the United States? In short, we have a 
right to regard the apparent disappearance of the 



Church's public authority, as compared with what it 
was in the Middle Ages, as being to a large extent a 
change in the way her influence takes effect. This does 
not mean that we should always meekly accept the 
collapse of the traditional forms: that by no means 
follows. What does follow is this: that whenever any 
forms of her influence disappear against our own will 
and despite all we do, we are still far from being lost, 
because the fact is that her influence can go on exist- 
ing and be won back again in new and different ways* 



AND NOW finally let us take a look at these so-called 
"facts", which are supposed to be the reason for our 
despair. On the whole, Christianity and the Church 
seem to all intents and purposes to be on the defensive. 
Despite her partial successes in the missionary field, the 
Church seems to be on the down-grade, in a state of 
retreat, and the fight she is waging seems only to be 
prolonging the process, not halting it. When we look 
out upon the world as a whole, the general historical 
tendency seems to be that in terms of sheer numbers 
the Church is becoming simply another religious sect 
though a big one existing in a sort of cul-de-sac, in 
some dead corner of the world history of the future. 
Is this a simple fact, a fair estimate of the future, 
based on undeniable objective facts; or is it, not a fact, 
but a false or at least highly dubious interpretation of 
the facts? 



To begin with, two theological dogmas must be 
remembered, if these "facts" are to be seen in the right 

The first of these is the fact of our Lord's second 
coming, and the uncertainty as to when this is to be. 
This article of faith may seem ridiculous to the pagan 
and Christian de-mythologizers of our day, but it is 
one of the truths of faith, a truth to be remembered, 
a truth lodged firmly in our hearts. We do not know 
when the Lord will come like lightning, and when 
unbelievers least expect him. We cannot say, "The 
time is miles away", and go on living as though there 
were no need to give a second thought to it. But so far 
as our present problem is concerned, this only brings 
out the dubiousness of the facts we find so disturbing. 
Are we really quite so sure what these facts really 
signify? Are they the beginning of a slow sickness that 
is bound to grow increasingly severe, and of a gradual 
atrophy of the Church's life whilst the world goes 
merrily on its way into new epochs, or do they denote 
the beginning of the final woes, the decay and death of 
love prophesied as heralding the end of time? Are they 
signs given us so that we shall not go astray when even 
the elect are in danger? Anyone who seriously believes 
in our Lord's second coming must by the very fact of 



his belief take the latter possibility into account. When 
this is done, the so-called facts assume quite a different 
complexion. Then the words Ecce praedixi vobis, the 
divine <c Behold I have foretold it unto you", in which 
all the guilt and apostasy of all the ages is enfolded, 
apply in the most radical sense. The answer given by 
faith is then plainly, in spite of all the blindness of the 
world, the only thing that counts. 

The second truth concerns the importance of grace 
in the matter of faith and election. A little dose of 
Jansenism would be no bad thing here. We are all too 
prone to think that God is under an obligation to offer 
the grace of faith and Church membership to every- 
one, and when we fail to see any effects of this grace 
we instinctively take it to be a sign not that something 
is wrong with human beings but that something is 
wrong with the Faith and the Church. The fact is that 
we should rather give thanks, as people quite unde- 
servedly given the possibility of redemption, and mar- 
vel that one single heart is opened to God's grace, 
instead of being taken aback by the fact that so many 
hearts seem to remain closed against it. We accept 
Christianity as a matter of course, and then are amazed 
to find that it is not accepted everywhere. If we were 
to see our Faith and the Church as what they really 


are, an absolute miracle o grace, an astonishing act of 
election, then we should be less appalled at finding this 
grace vouchsafed to so few. We could then, without 
disquiet, leave to God's own wisdom the question of 
how many people find ultimate bliss, for though he 
has enjoined on us that we are to seek our salvation 
through the means he has laid down for us, he has not 
so bound himself or his grace. If we saw things from 
this point of view there would be no need for us to 
be perturbed by the thought that in former days there 
were relatively more people who enjoyed the grace of 
believing in God and the Church than there are today. 
For in the last analysis belief in God and the Church 
is only of value if it leads to ultimate salvation. And it 
is quite fair to say that today anyone who has the grace 
of faith and practises his religion as a living reality is 
nearer to eternal salvation than he would have been in 
the old days. For more is demanded of the believer and 
done by him than was the case in former times. 

Where salvation is concerned, what counts is the ab- 
solute, not the relative, number of people involved, 
for in this matter everyone is alone. But who knows: 
even if we have only twenty per cent of "practising 5 * 
Catholics today, this is still in absolute terms far more 
than the presumed hundred per cent of earlier periods 



in the same epoch. Geniuses do not feel themselves to 
be in any danger just because there are so few of them. 
If we had, as a corollary to this, what we ought to 
have, a humbly proud consciousness of the ineffable 
degree to which we have been favoured by grace, if we 
really saw it as an infinite gift and not simply as im- 
posing a duty upon us, we should not tend to look on 
ourselves as cutting no very impressive figure because, 
apparently, we form such a tiny flock. If only we 
would think of Christianity more as a grace, in which 
something is given to persons who can take hold of it, 
and not so much as something demanded of people re- 
luctant to give it, then our words would often have 
more compelling power upon others. 

After these theological observations, let us take a 
somewhat closer look at this present condition of 
Christianity which we find so disturbing, and regard 
it from a more empirical point of view. History is 
always in motion; there is never any end to it; one 
cannot finally point to it and say that one is outside it 
or that this is where it leaves off. It is not for nothing 
that world history, which does not include any idea of 
world judgement, is to be followed by a Judgement 
once it has come to an end. It is not for nothing that 



Christian behaviour is based on trust in God's in- 
scrutable ways and judgements, on risk and trial. A 
period of history that seems as it must to the peo- 
ple experiencing and undergoing it to be a time of 
decline and catastrophe can look to later generations 
like an unavoidable transition period full of promise 
for the future. It was not by chance that Augustine 
and Gregory the Great saw their own day as a period 
of decline before the end of the world, when in fact it 
was something quite different, the dawn of a new 
and yet everlastingly the same kind of Christianity. 
If we had never known a mature human being, we 
might easily regard a period of religious crisis in a 
human being's adolescence as a pure catastrophe and 
the beginning of the end of all religious practices by 
the person concerned. Instead, we should see it as a 
transition period, accompanied perhaps by incidents 
of a regrettable or blameworthy kind, which may 
nevertheless be inevitable in the light of his whole life 
the really important enduring element struggling 
to a new form through a period of apparent destruc- 
tion. The meaning of any historical situation is a 
highly debatable thing so long as one remains exclu- 
sively within it, and if we sometimes feel with alarm 
that the facts under our very noses signify something 



like the beginning of the end of Christianity, then we 
have already given a highly debatable interpretation of 
these facts, not merely made a number of objective 

Now, there can be no doubt that today we are liv- 
ing in the midst of a transitional period of immense 
scope and depth. It is not for nothing that there has 
been talk of the end of the modern age. The day of 
European dominance in world affairs is over. The day 
of separate national histories, cut off from each other 
by areas of vast emptiness, is over too. The day of a 
unified world history has arrived. The fact that this 
one world is split into two is no argument against this, 
for the two parts are essentially involved with each 
other and can never again have their own independent 
destiny. Again, the day of technology has arrived. 
Human beings now live not according to nature but 
in a planned, ordered manner which they themselves 
have created and invented, to an extent unimaginable 
only a few centuries ago. Indeed, to a certain extent 
we now live according to a higher potential. And how- 
ever much all these things may be only accidental 
changes judged by the standards of man's essentially 
metaphysical and hence religious nature, they are 
nevertheless of a depth that is at the moment beyond 



our power to appreciate we probably tend to under- 
estimate rather than to overestimate them. Chrysalis 
and butterfly are one and the same creature, yet what 
a transformation takes place when the one becomes the 
other! What a vast difference between the men of 
today and their forbears! The latter lived in a world 
of nature which they had made only superficially 
serviceable and remained essentially food-gatherers 
feeding upon her spontaneous products. The former,, 
the new men who are now emerging, delve in con- 
fident mastery into nature's depths, even to the sub- 
atomic level, manufacture raw materials otherwise 
non-existent, land their rockets on the very face of 
the once-holy moon, and in all seriousness contem- 
plate voyaging into space. The extent of a change so 
vast is no less than that between two different life 
stages in the same organism. 

In a period like this it is not surprising that the 
whole of man's psychic life should be in a state of con- 
fusion and crisis, into which his religious life is sympa- 
thetically drawn. For this religious life of his is in a 
new context to which it has not yet managed to adapt 
itself. New, unexpected, as yet undisciplined impres- 
sions are invading the vast realms of his consciousness. 
Inevitably, for a time they force some of its other ele- 

9 6 


ments into the background. What we regard with such 
alarm as a symptom of the decline or degeneration of 
the religious nature in modern man is probably no 
more than the reflex, transposed into terms of the 
short-lived individual, of an adolescent crisis in the 
collective consciousness. This crisis may well continue 
for a long time, and hide the fact that the religious 
elements in man have merely been pushed into the 
background of the human consciousness. They will 
come to light again when man has surmounted the 
present crisis and become as much at home in his new 
world as he once was and again it was a long process 
in the world which we people of the transitional 
period are now leaving behind. When a young boy 
gets his first bicycle he may perhaps skip going to 
church for a few Sundays and go off on his own, be- 
cause he can't think of anything but his new toy; but 
later, when it has become just an ordinary means of 
transport for him, he finds that it can also be used for 
riding to church on Sundays. Mankind's spiritual crisis 
will go on for more than a few Sundays, of course 
in fact, for more than any of our individual lifetimes, 
and this is why it seems so endless to us Christians 
today, and why it constitutes such a threat to the per- 
sonal salvation of all the individuals caught up in it. 



Nevertheless, it is at least not improbable that funda- 
mentally the religious crisis of our day and age rests 
on the same simple psychic mechanism as the religious 
crisis of the young cyclist whose technical develop- 
ment has thoroughly upset his religious life for a while 
and taken away all his taste for religion (though not 
his religious propensities!). 

If we look upon the present day in this way, then 
the question arises in the unexistential sense alone 
open to us after what has been said above: Is there any 
real danger that the Church and Christianity, as a 
world religion plain for all to see, will not survive the 
present period of crisis in the human consciousness? 
This question can be answered with a firm No, even 
though none of us now alive will experience the truth 
of it in his own lifetime. To substantiate such a firm 
negative, which is made on the basis not of faith but 
of a purely secular consideration of human history and 
philosophy, two things are worth remembering. The 
first is man's indestructible religious propensity; the 
second, the empirical fact that Christianity quite 
apart from any question of its truth or falsehood has 
no formidable rival. 

Man's religious instinct is indestructible. We can 
allow ourselves a deduction of a transcendental kind 



from this statement. Man is a spiritual being. No mat- 
ter how exclusively he may have concentrated his 
spirituality during the last few centuries on mastering 
the material world and so wasted it he has at the 
same time given proof of its existence in the most in- 
controvertible way. Never was the factual and at 
the same time empirically verifiable disparity be- 
tween man on the one hand, and nature and the animal 
world on the other, so great as it is today. It might 
almost be said that now for the first time man was 
beginning to give tangible proof of his essential being 
as something outside and beyond nature. Sooner or 
later, however (and in my opinion only, to any great 
extent, later) , such a spiritual being is bound to inquire 
about the essence and meaning of his existence not 
only his own as an individual but also mankind's col- 
lectively: and not only about the technical mastery of 
the isolated moments of his existence, either. This at 
once raises the religious question. At the same time the 
whole of human existence has lost some of its savour, 
and become harsher, more fraught with responsibility 
and danger, in spite of all man's dazzling "progress". 
It has already been shown that the apparent disturb- 
ance of his religious propensities does nothing to dis- 
prove this statement. Man, now just settled into his 



new world, has only to make himself at home again, to 
develop a lively sense of the finite and problematical 
nature of this new world of his and this, it must be 
realized, has become greater, not less and then the 
religious question will in all probability arise again, in 
the midst of all the modern methods of technology 
and mass leadership, to a degree and extent hardly 
imaginable today. As long as wireless and telescopes 
are interesting in themselves, humans beings, being 
childlike and childish as they are, can't be bothered 
about what they see or hear through them: they are 
quite satisfied with the mere fact that the things work; 
but once they have got used to them and assimilated 
them psychologically, they will find out how to use 
them in such a way as to see and hear something of real 
value through them. 

But when this time comes along, the glad tidings of 
Christianity will once again be the only answer to 
mankind's newly resuscitated aspirations. For to begin 
with, it is a surprising fact, though not at all apparent 
at first sight, that there is no new religion on the hori- 
zon of the new era as the answer to mankind's religious 
potential, and it is quite fair to say that for the first 
time in history a new era will be arising without a 
new religion to go along with it. Communism tries to 



provide man's religious aspirations with an objective 
rooted in this world. But this attempt has behind it an 
ideological impulse so primitive and outmoded that it 
is bound to fail in the end, no matter how much naked 
force it can call upon. Nor is this all: once the objec- 
tive has been attained the objective which never goes 
beyond this world, and to which mankind's religious 
dynamism has been harnessed once the goal has been 
reached, the classless society, the earthly paradise, or 
at least some comparatively stable and lasting order of 
society corresponding to the new technological situa- 
tion man's religious energy will inevitably demand a 
fresh outlet. Once again, once the problems relating 
only to this world have been solved, the transcendental 
problem of meaning will arise; for man will again 
find himself a finite creature with the problem of the 
infinite on his mind, a mortal being hankering after 
immortality. But there is no new religion in these 
modern days of ours that seems likely to set itself up 
in competition with Christianity. Less than at any 
time in its history has Christianity a serious rival. All 
the former historical religions have on the purely em- 
pirical level already lost their battle with Christianity, 
no matter what they are called: Mohammedanism, 
Hinduism, Buddhism, or anything else you like. Thus 



the only sort of person who can have any serious 
doubts about Christianity's chances in the long run is 
the kind of person who believes like the Communist, 
who in this respect is a rationalist out of the back- 
woods of the nineteenth century, not a truly modern 
man that man's whole religious sense is on the way 

Furthermore, we have only to make clear to our- 
selves, even if we are unbelievers, what characteristics 
could qualify a religion to compete with Christianity, 
to be convinced that the appearance of such a vital 
religion cannot even be imagined. 

Such a religion would have to be in the first place 
a transcendental one; it would have to show mankind 
some way out of this world. And it would have to do 
this more successfully than ever. For the more com- 
pletely man subjugates this world, only to find him- 
self the same anxious, limited and mortal being with 
the same craving for the infinite, the more utterly 
profane must the world become; the more incapable 
of investiture with the unearthly radiance of holiness 
and mystery, of providing an object of worship. Nor 
will he be able to persist indefinitely in worshipping 
himself. This will, in fact, be more difficult than ever 
before. For all progress is at bottom a clearer under- 



standing of man's inner limitation, experience of his 
problematical situation. The fact that Russian peas- 
ants, now for the first time waking up in amazement 
to the possibilities of technology and world domina- 
tion, should not yet recognize this, is no argument 
against this estimate of the future. 

No religion in the unified world and unified world 
history of today and the future can afford to be re- 
gionally tied, as merely the reflex of one particular 
history or one particular nation. Christianity has al- 
ready proved itself in principle a religion for mankind 
as a whole. This universality is now becoming more 
evident than ever in the past. Perhaps its non-Euro- 
pean origin will gain a new and positive significance 
with the shift of the world's centre of gravity from 
Europe, possibly in the direction of Asia. 

In the days to come a religion will need to be highly 
realistic; it will need to have something to say about 
the darker side of life, for there will still be such a 
thing as death in A.D. 2000 and A.D. 2100, and death 
will still be as desperately bitter a thing as it is now, 
even in the clinics of A.D. 2100, despite all the develop- 
ments in medical technique that will have taken place 
and all the artificial screens that will have been erected 
against these deeper layers of human existence. 



Lastly, a religion will have to be historical It is pre- 
cisely the man of the future, making and knowing and 
organizing everything himself, who will long with an 
elemental longing for something not made, something 
unquestionable, something handed down to him, some- 
thing that has always been in existence; not something 
thought up artificially and settled in a Politburo and 
worked out for a purpose by the rational human mind. 
Precisely because he will no longer, or hardly ever, find 
anything of this kind in any all-controlling "divine" 
Nature, with an ever-recurring cycle of events, he will 
search for it with all the more elemental an impulse in 
his religion, and long for a faith that has not been put 
together in his own day by a handful of gifted brains 
but has always existed, one that comes down in an 
unbroken historical line from a beginning plain for all 
eyes to see. People whose whole life is, as it were, "pre- 
fabricated", and have to accept this as their destiny, 
will not want to have anything to do with a synthetic 
religion. The thing they will find most modern in this 
condition of things will be something as old as the hills. 

But where and how could such a new religion arise, 
transcendental, universal, realistic and historically ma- 
ture? How could it possibly compete with a religion 
that has the audacity to say that it is the Word of the 



living God, coming down from beyond this world 
with a promise of other-worldly eternity, a religion 
that is already universal, a religion originating from 
both Europe and Asia the religion of the Cross, the 
most historical religion of all, the oldest religion in the 

And even if it has to be also a religion for supermen, 
Christianity has always been the religion of the God- 
Man in such a breath-taking sense that it is as though 
endless spaces are opened out in it, in which man's 
Promethean hubris, only now coming into the open, 
alone can develop sensibly and slowly. And if latter- 
day Western individualism is coming to an end and a 
feeling of general collectivism is on the upsurge, then 
the religion of love, of the Kingdom of God, of the 
Church, of the unity of all mankind in guilt and re- 
demption, need have no fear. And if man the indi- 
vidualist, as he was until recently, has to go through 
the fire of collectivism now burning on both sides of 
the Iron Curtain, then he will have small desire left to 
fashion a private personal philosophy of his own for 
his private satisfaction, like the men of the nineteenth 
century. Nor will he be prepared to take his philoso- 
phy from any Ministry of Propaganda. He will want 
it from a Church, a wise old Church, a Church grown 



kind but firm in its lovingkindness. No; even if we 
take only the factors of this world into account, we 
may be sure that if there is to be any religion in the 
future, it will be the Christian religion. 



WHAT FOLLOWS from what has been said, so far as 
we ourselves and our special duty of helping to spread 
the Christian message are concerned? If, taking the 
situation as a whole, mankind is living through a criti- 
cal Sturm und Drang period, then whatever religious 
impulse still remains to it cannot be expected to lead 
to any sudden reflowering of Christianity and the 
Church. Now, I am no prophet, and I am quite ready 
to learn from experience that there are more grounds 
for optimism than I have imagined and that God's 
benevolent grace has bigger and better surprises in 
store for us in the relatively near future than seems 
likely at the moment. But pending that I cannot see 
much possibility of a new "Christian era", of any ap- 
preciable or fundamental improvement in our position 
as Christians and members of the Christian Church, 
within the foreseeable future. A train of thought, with 



a consequent forecast of events, can take place In our 
own minds in a few seconds, but in the mind of 
society at large, in the real actuality of things, this 
train of thought may in certain circumstances take 
centuries to work itself out. And so our ideas may be 
absolutely right in a general sort of way and yet their 
realization in actual history may still take a long time, 
despite the speed with which historical events are tak- 
ing place today in both the intellectual and the col- 
lective spheres. 

We Christians of today shall probably therefore 
spend the rest of our lives in the depressing situation 
with which this essay has been concerned. We shall re- 
main on the defensive. We shall most likely see a 
further decline of faith on the empirical level, and of 
the practice of religion and the influence of the 
Church as we have so far known it. We shall feel as 
though we are living amongst people thoroughly 
opaque to religion, talking to deaf ears and uncompre- 
hending hearts. Perhaps political changes may make 
things considerably worse, until we reach a stage when 
our very existence is threatened. All this is possible and 
indeed probable, even though our hopes for the ulti- 
mate prospects of Christianity even seen from the 
point of view of this world alone are justified. 



Our position, in fact, is rather like that of front- 
line soldiers in the middle of a battle. They may know 
that the battle has already been won, but their own 
position at any particular moment, as they lie in their 
dug-outs under fierce enemy fire, is nevertheless de- 
cidedly grim. What we have to do is to show the pa- 
tience and grim determination of men determinant to 
fight on. We have no reason to harbour feelings of 
defeatism in our hearts, as though the final victory 
were in question. But we shall not manage to avoid a 
period of dogged self-defence, in the immediate pres- 
ent and for a long time to come. 

Yet our position is not such that it does not matter 
whether we fight on or not, as though, however poor 
our chances now, final victory were in the long run 
assured. A careful study of spiritual matters shows 
that even in the same general conditions of race and 
civilization, social and intellectual background, the 
final results of the spiritual ministration of the priest- 
hood and efforts of laypeople who co-operate with 
them, can vary considerably. The deciding factor is 
whether they do their work in a spirit of devotion, 
self-sacrifice, holiness, penance and sincere prayer, or 
whether even the most essential and official duties are 
performed slackly, mechanically and as matters of 



official routine. Thus, even though we are at present 
on the defensive, we can still be aiming at very differ- 
ent objects, according to the degree of our goodwill. 
It will depend to a very great extent on us and what 
we do today, whether in time to come, when offensive 
action is again possible, the Church is able to utilize 
the new situation to the full. Though we are on the 
defensive now, we may be fighting for a victory that 
will settle the issue for centuries. One man sows and 
another reaps. 

When I say that it is our duty and present destiny 
to be on the defensive, I do not of course mean that 
we are only to try to preserve whatever there is still 
left to preserve. In this matter, as in many others, at- 
tack is the best defence, and even though any attack 
we may make may only aim at a passing tactical suc- 
cess which in no wise alters the defensive nature of our 
position as bearers of the Christian message, it still re- 
mains true that the man who can best defend himself 
is the man who has the courage to attack. One person 
newly won over by missionary endeavour from a so- 
ciety now returned to its original paganism is worth 
more from the missionary point of view than three 
times as many who have simply hung on from the old 
Christian dispensation; for they or their children will 



probably be lost later, since, never having passed 
through the crisis of their day, they have not been im- 
munized against the spirit of the age and are all too 
likely to have no resistance to its infection. Even in such 
purely local offensive moves, actual tangible numerical 
success is not the prime essential. The mere courage 
to embark on such offensive action and win over a 
handful of converts can mean a great deal, sometimes 
everything. At the start the result may seem disap- 
pointingly small, but in the end it may prove to have 
been a victory fraught with absolutely unforeseeable 
consequences. When Saint Benedict arrived at Monte 
Cassino with a handful of monks to establish the 
monastic way of life there he little realized that he 
was to be the founder of a new Western world. 

Soldiers win victories not through being certain that 
they are going to win through in the end, but by being 
ready to die in battle for their country, even though 
they can see no future in it for themselves. One might 
perhaps imagine a herd of animals fighting in the 
former way; but never human beings. Similarly, the 
Christian of today will not only fight on in a spirit of 
grim, patient determination because he is convinced 
that in the end absolute victory will be his and in the 
less distant future relative victories will come for those 


things for which, he is struggling and sacrificing him- 
self; he must be capable of absolute faith and abso- 
lutely selfless love. He must feel in his bones that he 
will one day have to give an account of himself before 
the judgement seat of God with no one there to help 
and support him, stating whether or not he was faith- 
ful to the duties of his day, duties which he was not 
free to choose. He must know that he will not be dis- 
pensed from thus appearing before God and his judge- 
ment and his eternal love simply because the duty 
laid upon him is a hard one and the times are dark and 
death is near. If we ourselves did not so often think 
and feel in such a purely worldly and sheepish way, if 
we felt more strongly in our bones that we stand or 
fall by God alone, then the contention of our times 
and any temporary lack of success we might experi- 
ence would never meet with anything other than 
brave and believing hearts. 


FATHER RAHNER was born in Frei- 
burg in Breisgau, Germany, in 1904, and 
is a widely recognized author and aca- 
demic lecturer. Educated at Pullach near 
Munich, Valkenburg (Holland) and Inns- 
bruck (Austria), he was ordained a priest 
in the Society of Jesus in 1932. He studied 
Modern Philosophy at Freiburg and re- 
ceived his D.D, in 1937. After the disband- 
ing of the Theology Faculty at Innsbruck 
by the Nazis in 1938, Father Rahner was 
for some time engaged in pastoral work 
in Vienna and Bavaria. Following the War, 
he became Lecturer in Catholic Dogma 
at Berchmans College in Pullach near 
Munich. He is the author of numerous 
books published on the continent, as well 
as a contributor to Zeitschrijt fur katho- 
liche Theologie, Theological Digest and 
Nouvelle Revue Thgologique. 

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